Lawrence Weiner

Lawrence Weiner is known as one of the founding figures of Conceptual art. His sculptures and installations pioneered the use of language as a sculptural material, redefining the relationship of “human beings to objects and objects to objects in relation to human beings.” By transforming how we see art, he transforms how we read the world.

For additional biographical information and definitions of key terms, please refer to additional materials.

Guiding Questions

What Can We Do With Words?

“Art is not a metaphor upon the relationship of human beings to objects and objects to objects in relation to human beings but a representation of an empirical existing fact.”

Guiding Questions

What Can Words Do?

“Art is still about the communication of one human being’s observations to another human being with the intent of bringing about a change of state.”


The following exercises are structured to sequentially build on each other. We encourage you to consider how their learning objectives develop as you adapt these exercises to your teaching activities.

Activity Group 1: Language As Material

This activity series investigates the theme of language as material, an important principle of Weiner’s practice. Its activities engage with Weiner’s artwork, “BITS & PIECES PUT TOGETHER TO PRESENT A SEMBLANCE OF A WHOLE”.

Activity Group 2: The Sea: Connection, Communication, Transformation

This series of activities provides an opportunity for us to think about the role of the sea in Weiner's work. We ask you to consider: How do words call attention and transform our relationship to a place? How does a place transform our interaction with words? Activities focus on two Weiner artworks, “PLACED ON THE TIP OF A WAVE” and “AN OBJECT TOSSED FROM ONE COUNTRY TO ANOTHER”.

Activity Group 3: Context and Translation

In this series of activities, we invite you to think more about how Weiner works in relation to particular contexts.


Lawrence Weiner is known as one of the founding figures of conceptual art. His sculptures and installations pioneered the use of language as a sculptural material, redefining the relationship of “human beings to objects & objects to objects in relation to human beings." By transforming how we see art, he transforms how we read the world.

Weiner was born in 1942 in the Bronx. He studied at Stuyvesant High School, developing particular interests in philosophy and linguistics. Following graduation, he journeyed throughout the United States while working on shipping docks, railways, and organizing with workers’ unions. Later years were spent between New York and Amsterdam, where he lived on a houseboat. These experiences fueled a strong commitment to democratic principles of equality and social justice. Through motifs of transportation and navigation, his work emphasises travel as a metaphor for individual and social change.

Weiner’s artistic practice primarily developed through independent study and friendships with fellow artists. New York City’s urban surrounding was a key influence, prompting broader interest in the relationship between language, social structures, and public space. As Weiner has stated, “I grew up in a city where i read the walls... I love to put work of mine out on the walls and let people read it. Some will remember it and then somebody else comes along and puts something else over it.”

Throughout the 1960s, Weiner’s early paintings investigated the psychological and social processes of perception, extending the challenge to the autonomy and authority of individual artworks initially mounted by minimalism in the US. A defining turn emerged with Weiner’s 1968 installation, "Staples, Stakes, Twine, Turf": when this outdoor installation was disturbed by some passersby, Weiner realised that what he had conceived as a site-specific artwork was in fact a set of materials arranged by a linguistic proposition. This revelation prompted Weiner’s foundational 1969 “Statement of Intent”:

  1. The artist may construct the piece.
  2. The piece may be fabricated.
  3. The piece need not be built.

Weiner’s “Statement” has remained the guiding principle of his practice, as well as a core idea of Conceptual art. This principle informs Weiner’s use of artist’s books, film, sculpture, and installation as formats that emphasize accessible and economical distribution.

Key Terms

Conceptual art in Context by Art21.


As Far As The Eye Can See 1960-2007, De Salvo, Donna, and Ann Goldstein, eds., published by Yale University Press, New Haven, CT, the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY, and Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, CA, 2008

"Conceptual Art 1962-1969: From the Aesthetic of Administration to the Critique of Institutions," Benjamin H.D. Buchloh, published in October, vol. 55, winter, 1990, p. 105–143.

Conceptual Art: A Critical Anthology, Alexander Alberro and Blake Stimson, ed., published by MIT Press, Cambridge MA, 1999.

Conceptual Art and the Politics of Publicity, Alexander Alberro, published by MIT Press, Cambridge MA, 2003.

Conceptual Art (Themes & Movements), Peter Osborne, ed., published by Phaidon, New York and London, 2002.

Having Been Said: Writings and Interviews of Lawrence Weiner 1968–2003, Fietzek, Gerti, and Gregor Stemmrich, eds., published by Hatje Cantz Verlag, Ostfildern-Ruit Germany, 2004.

Lawrence Weiner, Alexander Alberro, David Batchelor, Benjamin H. D. Buchloh, and Alice Zimmerman, published by Phaidon, New York City and London, 2004.

Recording Conceptual Art: Early Interviews with Barry, Huebler, Kaltenbach, LeWitt, Morris, Oppenheim, Siegelaub, Smithson, and Weiner by Patricia Norvell, Patricia Norvell and Alexander Alberro, eds., published by University of California Press, Oakland CA, 2001.

Six Years: The Dematerialization of the Art Object from 1966 to 1972, Lucy Lippard, published by University of California Press, Berkeley, CA, 1997.

"Sentences on Conceptual Art," Sol LeWitt, first published in 0-9, New York, and Art-Language, England, May 1969.



Reading Resources: Lawrence Weiner was produced by Art Resources Transfer (A.R.T.) in collaboration with Wendy Tronrud (A.R.T. Education Consultant) in summer/fall 2017.

A.R.T. acknowledges the invaluable generosity, assistance, and enthusiasm of all who contributed to Reading Resources production:

This program is supported, in part, by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, in partnership with the City Council.

We also thank:
Regen Projects
María Sprowls Cervantes and MaryJo Marks at Lawrence Weiner Studio
A.R.T. Board of Directors
National Endowment for the Arts
H.W. Wilson Foundation
and most specially, Lawrence Weiner.

Design by Document Services and Other Means.

Copyright © Art Resources Transfer, Inc 2017.

All images are protected under copyright by the original rights holders.

A.R.T. is a 501(c)3 nonprofit.

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