New York

Lawrence Weiner

James Goodman Gallery

You’d expect a show devoted to an artist’s multiples and editions to be of minor importance, at best a collection of diversions, digressions, ephemera, jeux d’esprit, and other asides. In the case of Lawrence Weiner, by contrast, such an exhibition turns out to be the best way to enter his oeuvre. One reason for this is the simple fact that this show supplies a rare opportunity to gather a large number of works of very different sorts in a single room. More important, it serves as a reminder that Weiner’s work is nothing if not an art of diversions, digressions, ephemera, jeux d’esprit, and asides. This might not be so obvious from the artist’s best-known works, the large-scale wall inscriptions that, he maintains, consist of “language and the materials referred to.” But when these inscriptions are relocated in a broader context that includes books, posters, matchbooks, banners, pins, T-shirts, stencils, ceramic dinnerware, beer coasters, panty hose, handkerchiefs, and various kinds of prints—as well as the impromptu collages and drawings through which Weiner works out the ideas for all the above and more—then it becomes clear that he sees art as, fundamentally, the design, development, and dissemination of “paradigms suitable for daily use” (to borrow the title of a pair of 1986 posters) that correspond to needs in realms ranging from the most public to the most private, from the political to the erotic. Even at its most didactic, however—and Weiner is not embarrassed to present art as a form of wisdom—this exquisitely light art possesses the sly humility to leave something unsaid, tangential, merely “referred to.”

A paradigm is fundamentally a form or pattern, which means that it organizes reality in a way that is spatial, graphic, or tabular; its Greek root means to show side by side. Yet the most familiar kind of paradigm is linguistic, “an example of a conjugation or declension showing a word in all its inflectional forms”; amo, amas, amat . . . . Weiner’s work engages the interplay between linguistic and graphic structure, just as it recollects the relation of generalization and specificity that is also part of the notion of paradigm. A 1992 poster reads “SHOW (&) TELL (&) SHOW (&) TELL & THEN.” What is important is not just that Weiner grants equality to showing and telling, or that he chooses showing as first among these equals; we should pay attention to those ampersands. The parentheses that surround some of them imply, I think, that what they contain might be experimentally dropped—that the task of art might be not only to SHOW & TELL but also to SHOW TELL and to TELL SHOW, that is, to give a visual account of the discursive and a discursive account of the visual. But note that the final ampersand is not bracketed: & THEN. The point is that there be some consequence to this showing and telling; Weiner ultimately leaves what that might be unsaid.

Barry Schwabsky