The Utah Museum of Fine Arts’ newest major acquisition is now on the walls — and it’s different than what museumgoers might be used to seeing.
The work is a piece of language sculpture by Lawrence Weiner, who’s considered one of the founders of the Conceptual art movement.
The 1976 sculpture, “BENT TO A STRAIGHT AND NARROW AT A POINT OF PASSAGE,” consists of that enigmatic title rendered in large blue cut-vinyl capital letters over three walls of UMFA’s otherwise empty main first-floor gallery, the G.W. Anderson Family Great Hall. It will be on display there now through mid-2014.
As Whitney Tassie, curator of modern and contemporary art for UMFA, explains on a YouTube video showing the work’s recent installation, Conceptual art elevates the idea or content of an artwork over the object itself.
Tassie quotes Weiner’s 1968 “Statement of Intent,” in which he argued that the essence of an artwork is textual, and that the work can exist without ever being physically constructed. According to Weiner’s three-step statement, “(1) The artist may construct the piece. (2) The piece may be fabricated. (3) The piece need not be built. Each being equal and consistent with the intent of the artist, the decision as to condition rests with the receiver upon the occasion of receivership.”
Following that third point, Tassie said, the phrase can be displayed in various ways, even “sung by a chorus or scribbled on a napkin.”
The only restriction, on Weiner’s orders, is that the words must be presented in all capital letters. “Weiner doesn’t want to give any letters or words more emphasis or importance—that would be too authoritative,” Tassie said in a statement.
“BENT TO A STRAIGHT AND NARROW AT A POINT OF PASSAGE” was created in 1976, and displayed in Europe — most notably at a major Weiner retrospective in Bern, Switzerland, in 1983 — but this is the first time it’s been displayed in the United States.
UMFA bought the work in 2011 with funds from the Phyllis Cannon Wattis Endowment for Twentieth Century Art.