Bits & Pieces of Life
Moments upon entering the gallery through the shutter screen doors which open to the immediate sight of Lawrence Weiner, I hear myself saying out loud how this compact spotlight exhibition at Magasin III (based on the collection) surveying the late artist's work is the most comprehensive I've ever seen, anywhere in the world. Thought shoots to the several murals, whether temporary, permanent or vanished that I have experienced in cities I've either lived in, frequented, loved or loved in. The memories of some of such cities and what happened there are now intimately linked with Weiner's work in a way that is unprecedented for me with any other artist, late or present. And as that one work in those occasions; monumentally intervening a space, while intersecting language, poetry and visual communication/form, whether it was the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, MACBA in Barcelona or Museum der arte moderne in Salzburg, felt "plenty" and satisfying already I'm struck by some hypothesis here. And that being; perhaps since Weiner's work was fairly consistent and sensuously rich and self-contained, it doesn't necessarily need the support system of several of his works presented at once and that a more concise exhibition like the one at hand that weighs on several of his characteristics in smaller concentrations is an "ideal ratio" and scenario. That however doesn't stop me from wondering why more encyclopedic attempts with Weiner's work has been omitted out of my view and offers in Sweden. The closest connection in more recent years that comes to mind would be Malmö Konsthall's surveying exhibition of Ad Rheinhardt (Art vs. History) in 2015, and if that's a stretch then there's 2013's group exhibition ABCDEFGHI at Marabouparken which brought forth the work of fellow text-based American artist Kay Rosen. For someone who intrinsically loves words; seeing Weiner's words "Bits and Pieces Put Together to Present a Semblance of a Whole" on the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis some now soon fifteen years ago was a lesson in the agency and power of ”stripped-off” text as art. To amp up the figures of speech, nothing was ever quite the same after that. That does ”make sense” in light of something the late Weiner once said as an objective for art.”Art should fuck up your life”. Hence, not just your day, or your week. I call those words from Minneapolis to mind often in connection to people or relationships, or to just to address art. Most recently I referenced Weiner with these words in an exhibition statement I wrote about the first solo gallery exhibition of the Norwegian interdisciplinary artist Rina Eide Lovaasen that conceptually is concerned by the artifice of wholiness as far as perception goes.
Lawrence Weiner, Suomi Finland Passi Port, 2011, 1.0 x 15.0 x 11.0 cm, Photo: Jean-Baptiste Béranger
That brings me to the second mind-shattering work (that literally saw its own share of being shattered), the formerly site-specific” Smashed to pieces (in the still of the night) on the top of a brutalist WW2 watch tower in Vienna. I used to pass it with the guy I used to date in the city and think to myself: No, Mr. Ad Rheinhardt [paraphrase] Art is not just art and everything else is not just everything else. Art is life and life is art, me thought, finishing the thought that that Weiner work said absolutely everything to me about my own relationship. Almost revealingly too much, later when I co-curated a film program for Filmform with my twin brother and frequent co-curator at the height of the pandemic, I named it after this work and wrote;
“Are you watching WWE Raw?”, he says, sitting down next to me on his couch. “It’s so stupid”, he continues, while jerking his head.
I know it isn’t. And I know it’s only stupid in the context of us. At night sometimes, I’m struck by the urge to film him sleeping with my phone, just to savor the moment of it having happened. That we were once this close. And that I got to watch the ebb and flow of his body breathing in the dark.
Smashed to pieces (in the still of night) reads Lawrence Weiner’s work towering over the city which I’ve come to love. A city where I was a night nurse and merely a visitor, and he always the host. Weiner’s words always used to appear emblematic of us, until his work no longer was and one day ceased from its ground.
Lawrence Weiner, TIT AS TAT, Spring 2013, Book (Aurore-light pink cover),19.5 x 29.0 x 2.0 cm, Photo: Jean-Baptiste Béranger
As told in the story contextualizing the film program which visualized that relationship, that work shockingly was demolished a few years ago to the dismay of the Viennese art community, at the hands of capitalist forces and interests. As I remember, some attempts were made to keep it on its ground. I also remember Weiner was quoted on his sentiment about the whole commotion and if there was a hint of sadness (were there? I can’t remember), he definitely didn’t seem overly sentimental or” precious” about it or the destruction of his work. He certainly on that note as an artist was ”democratic” with his own creating and non-hierarchical about his works, whether murals or printed matter which is something that the curator Olga Krzeszowiec Malmsten appear to have honored and emphasized in her curatorial work. Anyone who ever image-googled Weiner might have noted his oceanic love. On the floor of the gallery rests a bright yellow open sculptural fish tank that reads ”Along the shore”. Weiner might not have seen himself as a poet or literary artist and rather a textual sculptor in which case a work like this might just epitomize that for his viewer. It turns out the fish tank belongs to a larger group of those that were indeed made for utilitarian use by actual ships out at sea and to this day effectively are. If the words ”Along the shore” on a piece of boxy plastic reek of both wry and genuinely romantic poetry; adding the text on the adjacent mural is a transformative display that both is endearingly self-referential and a continued power-press on the apparent poetics; ”Something turned into a thing along the shore”. I love how me as a viewer can project life on to it, as times I have before, but I can also appreciate how the first mural part connotes to the act of artistic studio process that will ring a bell for any artist. To add some ”site-specific” clout to all of this, is to note that that the harbor of Stockholm is actually just right outside the gallery space.
Because Weiner was so much real life to me, there’s a part of me that me that thinks his work is best viewed outside elevated, clinical and fancy white cubes and in the bustle of life happening around it, like was the case in Vienna. On roofs or facades or atypical art environments.
Lawrence Weiner, Along the Shore, 2014, High insulated plastic bulk container, type 460, 58.0 x 122.0 x 103.0 cm, Photo: Jean-Baptiste Béranger
I’ve never seen anything of Weiner ”institutionalized” behind display glass before. In light of bringing forth his printed matter in the exhibition and giving them their due moment, glass of course serves a potent staging. What I think the curator did well is retaining the spirit of Weiner behind the glass; the glass display feel playful as opposed to heavy as you leap around them to see and read. There are more easter eggs to find in the form of sketches and notebooks with handwritings; all in moderate concentrations; nothing comes across as superfluous here; everything pulls its weight for the” whole” and I forget that the exhibition is made from the permanent collection alone which among other things speak also speaks about the artistic wealth of Magasin III over the years. I’m happy and content as I leave and would only have been happier had it been made possible to acquire one of his books on the way out, to prolong this Weiner day on my lap, on the bus ride back into the city.
At the pen of this love letter to the late Lawrence Weiner,
Fokus: Lawrence Weiner is showing at Magasin III - Museum for Contemporary Art through June 17, 2023
Curator: Olga Krzeszowiec Malmsten