Lawrence Weiner’s Art in Words: Painted on a Huge High Wall in Boston’s Dewey Square, Incised in Ground-level Granite in MIT Ashdown House Courtyard, Cambridge
Autumn in Boston gave me the chance to look at words chosen by artist Lawrence Weiner for two different settings and hear his own spoken words about art. Here are a few images and thoughts related to these experiences. Your comments, whether challenges or extensions, will help make the most of this post.
A TRANSLATION FROM ONE LANGUAGE TO ANOTHER
That’s both title and text of Weiner’s mural on the tall wall of the air-intake structure building in Dewey Square. The relatively straightforward two-color presentation replaced Shinique Smith’s multicolored, complex energetic collage of textures, and photo images that had been up for the past year. Smith’s was third in a series of murals on the same wall (by Matthew Ritchie and Os Gemeos), each one up and then off in less than a year.
Weiner’s is the first to focus on words, conveying his unique and influential text-based approach to art over several decades. He has long challenged conventions of where, when, and how to present art. Weiner’s phrases are carefully crafted (attentive to typeface, colors, and size) to reach people and spark their personal interpretations. The seven-word phrase, visible from a distance to daily commuters and first-time visitors is not a sentence but an invitation to explore the meaning. It may get us to create our own sentence, story or post.
For lively photos, early reactions, and context soon after installation, go to this article from WBUR Artery by Andrea Shea: A ‘Translation’ for Boston’s Massive Greenway Mural, Sept. 24, 2015. On the Rose Kennedy Greenway site at Lawrence Weiner Mural, you will find intriguing facts, background, and links.
In December the MIT Public Art Map helped me find the courtyard of Ashdown House, completed in 2008 incorporating Weiner’s art. Like the Boston mural, the text is ALL CAPS and integrates respectfully with utilitarian features of the physical structure. Unlike the mural, the color palette is subdued and the type size is not notably large. Unlike the mural, it frames the text with graceful elegantly rendered forms (circle, arrow, rectangle) and sleek straight or curving lines.
Like poetry or music, Dead Center contains repeated phrases. The whole piece has balance and order without seeming rigid. It’s built into a sidewalk where students must step on sections of it several times each day. Though it must mostly be ignored, or even hidden under ice and snow, it upholds residents and endures throughout the seasons.
To appreciate this art and artist, a must-read in my view is the overview of Dead Center by Jarrett Gregory. https://listart.mit.edu/sites/default/files/Weiner%20FINALpdf.pdf
Sidewalk Stroll in Ashdown House Courtyard, December 2015
One key way that both artworks are alike is Weiner’s collaborative process. To develop each piece he had to communicate clearly with various craftspeople, community members, and administrators. Through language, body language, deliberately deep thought, and sudden insights, Weiner moved with many others to complete their parts of the art. In keeping with my understanding of his goals as an artist, we each complete our part as we truly take in the text.
I, for one, am not yet done! I’m happily hoping to go back to Dewey Square and Ashdown House.