View of “Lawrence Weiner,” 2021. From left: PUT WITH THE OTHER THINGS, 2020; HELD JUST ABOVE THE CURRENT, 2016; IN LINE WITH SOME-THING ELSE, 2020.

View of “Lawrence Weiner,” 2021. From left: PUT WITH THE OTHER THINGS, 2020; HELD JUST ABOVE THE CURRENT, 2016; IN LINE WITH SOME-THING ELSE, 2020.

Lawrence Weiner

Thirty-seven years ago, a succinct text work by Lawrence Weiner was stenciled onto an external wall of the old Guinness Brewery in Dublin. Two blocks of pale-blue, sans serif lettering—one in English, one in Irish—were applied to the dark, weathered brickwork of an imposing historical edifice. Elliptical couplets declared a nonconforming Conceptual artist’s complex interest in material solidity: STONE UPON STONE / UPON FALLEN STONE. Commissioned for the 1984 edition of the quadrennial Rosc exhibition—the title of the seminal series of international group shows staged in Ireland between 1967 and 1988 translates as “Poetry of Vision”—Weiner’s sensitively sited word sculpture had ambiguous physical presence. Against the patchwork of smoke-stained masonry, Weiner displayed simple, direct statements on construction and collapse: stone proclamations on a sturdy brick surface, messages merging with matter. Today, almost forty years later, Weiner’s STONE UPON STONE / UPON FALLEN STONE remains visible in its industrial side-street setting—a little faded and worn but still a gently eye-catching landmark. Its lasting effect is an absorbing simultaneity: We see the words and we see the wall, separately and together.

Weiner created another set of bespoke English-Irish wall works for a welcome exhibition at the Kerlin Gallery, his first solo show in the city since 1993. The pieces overall were brighter, bolder, and more contextually commanding than their Rosc antecedent. But, as always with Weiner’s art, assured arrangements of words became the basis of generously equivocal sculptural situations—occasions of a pleasurably demanding give-and-take between linguistic statements and physical states. On each of the rectangular gallery’s two main walls, a unique phrase in the artist’s signature font—his self-designed, marvelously named Margaret Seaworthy Gothic—stretched across the available space. These dramatic, wall-filling assertions spoke of order, equivalence, careful emplacement. On one surface, extending almost the full length of the gallery, Weiner named an organizing action: PUT WITH THE OTHER THINGS; on the facing wall, he indicated a relative position: IN LINE WITH SOMETHING ELSE. Each work was distinct from the other—they were identified as individual works, both from 2020, with titles matching the displayed script—but could easily have been linked as a two-part sentence: one linguistic thing put together with something else. The billboard-scale pronouncements were emphatic yet nonspecific: obscure stand-alone injunctions as well as potential building blocks of more substantial, stable meaning. In each case, moreover, the actual statement was presented in two tightly bonded ways: an English- and an Irish-language version, one below the other, with a slight, precisely calibrated overlap—layered lines of letters, separate and together. The combinations of tall, solid characters had a steady coherent visual presence, but the viewer noticed moments of variation and fluctuation, too. A glance to one side of the gallery revealed English words in red and Irish words in blue; a shift in focus toward the opposite wall found the colors flipped. A third text, from 2016, on the far-back wall—a muted subclause between the two larger, louder declarations—was the bilingually expressed phrase HELD JUST ABOVE THE CURRENT. Once again, the words spoke of stable position while also acknowledging overwhelming conditions of force and flow. (Water, like stone, is a recurrent reference point in the artist’s work.)

Weiner’s priorities in presenting these fragments of ordinary speech—and others featured in an accompanying trio of works on paper—are principally sculptural. He uses words to envisage and determine spatial conditions. And yet it feels right to read his space-making statements in existential terms, too. Phrases such as PUT WITH THE OTHER THINGS or IN LINE WITH SOMETHING ELSE might be taken as curt summaries of how we live life in ways large and small: arranging, defining, judging. Most powerfully, though—even as an incidental unintended effect—Weiner’s works float ideas that seem well suited to the present moment. They invoke, in this instance at least, the routine onerous responsibility of keeping things together, of holding on, JUST ABOVE THE CURRENT.