Lawrence Weiner’s “very primitive existence”
The late artist on his daily routine circa 2010
The Conceptual artist Lawrence Weiner died last Thursday at age 79. (Read more about his work here.) More than ten years ago, while I was working on Daily Rituals, Weiner generously told me about his daily routine in a phone interview—but the entry I wrote about him was ultimately cut from the book. For this issue of Subtle Maneuvers, I thought I would resurface that deleted entry, in which the late artist describes his typical day in New York circa 2010.
Lawrence Weiner (1942–2021)
“If people knew how boring it was to be an artist,” Weiner remarked in a recent interview. “You meet a lot of interesting people, that’s true. But as far as your time and the way your life is, you often don’t get out on the street for days. And you don’t miss it; you don’t feel like you’ve been kept in.” Weiner lives with his wife in Amsterdam and New York’s West Village, and the outline of his typical day is, indeed, pretty unremarkable:
I seem, in New York City, to wake up at about seven-thirty. And then I go down and I work very quietly, because it’s quiet in the studio in the morning. Make coffee and I drink coffee. And basically then I work through the whole day, if I don’t have to leave, and eat dinner. If I can avoid going out to have dinner at something, we cook and we eat dinner at about nine.
I don’t have any sort of hobbies. I don’t seem to punctuate my day in any special way. Occasionally I walk to the corner bar at about five-thirty, before it gets crowded, and have a couple of drinks and then walk home. That is my day. But my life is also traveling a lot, so my days in each different city, in each different place, have another consistency to them. They’re more dependent upon other people than my days in New York. In New York, when left to my own devices, I seem to stay with my own devices.
In addition to drinking coffee, Weiner smokes cigarettes as he works; otherwise, he says, he doesn’t really need anything to stay focused—other than the occasional good night’s sleep, which he finds hard to come by. He often wakes in the middle of the night, and sometimes he uses that time to do more work. He does not procrastinate nor suffer from prolonged blocks. The only thing that consistently interferes with Weiner’s art-making, he says, is having to go out and “perform” as an artist:
It’s something one always has trouble with, this balancing of a little bit of fame. If you’re performing as an artist, not performing being an artist, you’re not being an artist. And the purpose of success is to be able to buy the time to make work. I’m very serious. Time is the hardest thing for human beings to buy. You often have to give up bodily comforts and sometimes even give up conviviality in order to get that time to do the thing that you’re supposed to be doing.
In Amsterdam, Weiner’s days are no more regulated than they are in New York: He wakes up, goes to work, takes a break to buy some food, works some more, cooks dinner with his wife, works again, and goes to sleep. “It’s a very primitive existence,” he says. “And I’m happy that way.”
PETER HUJAR’S DAY
Speaking of artist’s daily routines, I found this slender book by Linda Rosenkrantz a joy. In 1974, she asked the photographer Peter Hujar to write down everything he did in a single day; the following day, Rosenkrantz tape-recorded Hujar as he went over his notes and she asked questions. The transcript of their conversation has recently been published by Magic Hour Press and it is an irresistible window into Hujar’s personality, life in 1970s New York, and the art life in general. The perfect gift for any artists in your life, or for anyone who wonders what they do all day and where the time goes.