• Review

  • December 29th, 2014 12.29.2014

    Lawrence Weiner: La Biennale de Montréal 2014


    In November, as part of L’avenir (Looking Forward), La Biennale de Montreal  (BNL MTL) 2014, Lawrence Weiner stood at the podium of The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts Auditorium dismissing the lecture he was about to give. When he envisioned this evening—dubbed THE PROSAIC TYRANNY OF SYNTAX—notes Weiner, the crowd was smaller, the atmosphere more relaxed, and the talk was more of an open dialogue than a structured lecture. Yet there he stood, under the harsh auditorium spotlights, and this first remark would not be his only to challenge the art world, academia, and modern readings of his works created in 1969, now included in the BNL MTL 2014.

    Weiner’s artworks presented in the biannual exhibition were curated within the 2014 BNL’s theme of futurity. Though Weiner’s works were all conceived almost half a century ago, his inclusion in the exhibition is not off the mark. Weiner shaped conceptual art practices just as many of the newer included artists and artworks strive to imagine, influence, or explore the future forms and roles of contemporary art.

    Lawrence Weiner, THE ARCTIC CIRCLE SHATTERED, 1969, language + the materials referred to, dimensions and placement variable. Courtesy of Moved Pictures Archive, New York; photo: Guy L’Heureux/La Biennale de Montréal, 2014

    While a nod to Weiner’s contribution to conceptual art is warranted, he also notes that his inclusion in the biennale is not without contention. His art, which in this case hails Canada’s arctic as a vast and harsh landscape, has been taken out of its original context, tied to the liberating social movements and rapidly changing art practices of the 1960s, and its modern interpretation largely steeped in the environmental worries of our current time. While Weiner appears neither entirely displeased nor impressed with these readings, he is quick to point out that he was never motivated by an environmental concern for the future of the arctic.

    However, all three works included in the BNL MTL 2014 represent distinct actions that were realized during Weiner’s trip to Canada’s North in 1969, alongside Canadian artists Harry Savage and N.E. Thing Co. collective, then-director of the Edmonton Art Gallery Bill Kirby, and art scholars Virgil Hammock and Lucy Lippard.

    At the BNL MTL 2014, each of Weiner’s pieces is displayed in different venues. The first, AN ABRIDGEMENT OF AN ABUTMENT TO ON NEAR OR ABOUT THE ARCTIC CIRCLE, is displayed in the main gallery of the Darling Foundry, a high-ceilinged renovated industrial building turned non-profit visual art centre. Weiner’s work claims the two-story rear brick wall, where the words appear diagonally in perfect white block lettering, first in English and then in French. The English text is chopped into three lines. The first and second lines are three words each, allowing the repetitive nature of the text to appear, and the French translation follows on a singular line.

    Lawrence Weiner, AN ABRIDGEMENT OF AN ABUTMENT TO ON NEAR OR ABOUT THE ARCTIC CIRCLE, 1969, language + the materials referred to, dimensions and placement variable. Courtesy of Moved Pictures Archive, New York; photo: Guy L’Heureux/La Biennale de Montréal, 2014

    Weiner’s second piece appears in the main exhibition of the BNL MTL 2014 housed in the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal. Just past the winding stairs leading to the main floor of the museum, a gallery wall acts as a welcoming to the entire exhibition bearing the words UN COURS D’EAU NATUREL DÉTOURNÉ RÉDUIT OU DÉPLACÉ. A NATURAL WATER COURSE DIVERTED REDUCED OR DISPLACED. This time, Weiner’s words are written in black text against a white wall, with the French leading and the English following on a second line. Fittingly, one must pass or walk around the freestanding wall that contains these words to gain access to the rest of the exhibition.

    The final piece, THE ARCTIC CIRCLE SHATTERED, breaks out of private art spaces, and is written on the public walls of 1 Place Ville Marie. At his talk, Weiner affirms that he prefers to display his art in such public spaces, where the art can be encountered outside of the institutional framework that so often divides the art world from the rest of the population.

    Though the proverbial writing on the wall functions as the art on display at the BNL MTL, equally important are the acts that influenced these writings. In Canada’s arctic, Lawrence Weiner left his mark on the immense landscape by leaning a pack of cigarettes against a pile of dirt, by damming streams of water, and by firing a rifle at a rock—characterizing the three discussed works respectively. Though these finite and momentary actions have long faded into history, the works that Weiner went home to create are on display almost fifty years later at the BNL MTL 2014, and the artist continues to look forward.

    La Biennale de Montréal runs through January 4, 2015.