Weiner was born in the Bronx, New York, the son of a candy-store owner. After graduating from Stuyvesant High School at 16, he had a variety of jobs—he worked on an oil tanker, on docks, and unloading railroad cars. After studying at Hunter College for less than a year, he traveled throughout North America before returning to New York.
Weiner is regarded as a founding figure of Postminimalism’s Conceptual art, which includes artists like Douglas Huebler, Robert Barry, Joseph Kosuth, and Sol LeWitt.
Weiner began his career as an artist as a very young man at the height of Abstract Expressionism. His debut public work/exhibition was at the age of 19, with what he called Cratering Piece. An action piece, the work consisted of explosives set to ignite simultaneously in the four corners of a field in Marin County, California. That work, as Weiner later developed his practice as a painter, became an epiphany for the turning point in his career. His work in the early 1960s included six years of making explosions in the landscape of California to create craters as individual sculptures. He is also known during his early work for creating gestures described in simple statements leading to the ambiguity of whether the artwork was the gesture or the statement describing the gesture: e.g."Two minutes of spray paint directly on the floor.." or " A 36" x 36" removal of lathing or support wall..." (both 1968). In 1968, when Sol LeWitt came up with his Paragraphs on Conceptual Art, Weiner formulated his "Declaration of Intent" (1968):
1. The artist may construct the piece.
2. The piece may be fabricated.
3. The piece need not be built.
Weiner created his first book Statements in 1968, a small 64-page paperback with texts describing projects. Published by The Louis Kellner Foundation and Seth Siegelaub, "Statements" is considered one of the seminal conceptual artist's books of the era. He was a contributor to the famous Xeroxbook also published by Seth Siegelaub in 1968. Weiner's composed texts describe process, structure, and material, and though Weiner 's work is almost exclusively language-based, he regards his practice as sculpture, citing the elements described in the texts as his materials.
An important aspect of audience participation in Weiner’s work is site-specificity. In SOME LIMESTONE SOME SANDSTONE ENCLOSED FOR SOME REASON (1993) he recast the iron weighbridge of the Dean Clough carpet factory, incorporating the words of the title as an embossing inscription.
Since the early 1970s, wall installations have been Weiner's primary medium, and he has shown at the Leo Castelli gallery. Nevertheless, Weiner works in a wide variety of media, including video, film, books, sound art using audio tape, sculpture, performance art, installation art, and graphic art. In 2007, he participated at the symposium “Personal Structures Time-Space-Existence” a project which was initiated by the artist Rene Rietmeyer. In 2008 an excerpt from his opera with composer Peter Gordon – The Society Architect Ponders the Golden Gate Bridge – was issued on the compilation album Crosstalk: American Speech Music (Bridge Records) produced by Mendi + Keith Obadike. In 2009 he participated in the art project Find Me, by Gema Alava, in company of artists Robert Ryman, Merrill Wagner and Paul Kos.
A comprehensive retrospective of Weiner's nearly 50-year career was organized by Ann Goldstein and Donna De Salvo at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (MOCA) and the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York in 2007–2008. Major solo exhibitions of the artist’s work have been mounted at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C. (1990), Institute of Contemporary Arts, London (1991), Dia Center for the Arts, New York (1991), Musée d’Art Contemporain, Bordeaux (1991 and 1992), San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (1992), Walker Art Center, Minneapolis (1994), Philadelphia Museum of Art (1994), Museum Ludwig, Cologne (1995), Deutsche Guggenheim in Berlin (2000), Museo Tamayo Arte Contemporáneo in Mexico City (2004), and Tate Gallery in London (2006)., Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam in 1988/89 and in Arnhem (Sonsbeek) The Netherlands, in 1993. He has participated in Documenta V (1972), VI (1977), and VII (1982), as well as the 2005 Venice Biennale, the Biennale de São Paulo in 2006, and the Venice Biennale and European Cultural Centre in 2013 with his work 'The Grace of a Gesture'.10 October – 20 December 2015 WITHIN A REALM OF DISTANCE: Lawrence Weiner at Blenheim Palace at Blenheim Art Foundation, Oxfordshire
25 October 2014 – 19 April 2015 Straight Down to Below: Lawrence Weiner (part of Artist Rooms on Tour at Tate Modern and National Galleries of Scotland), Woodhorn Museum, Northumberland, Scotland
26 September 2014 – 23 November 2014 Lawrence Weiner: All in due course at South London Gallery, London
21 September 2013 – 5 January 2014 – Lawrence Weiner: written in the wind, Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam
2013 – MACBA Museu d'Art Contemporani de Barcelona
March 1 – May 13, 2012 Lawrence Weiner: NO TREE NO BRANCH at The Jewish Museum, New York
May 19 – June 19, 2010 Lawrence Weiner in the House of Art, České Budějovice, Czech Republic
May 27 – July 19, 2008 Lawrence Weiner: Water in Milk Exists at Kino Mascotte, Basel
November 15, 2007 – February 10, 2008 Lawrence Weiner: As Far The Eye Can See at Whitney Museum of American Art, New York
March 22 – December 9, 2007 Lawrence Weiner: Inherent in the Rhumb Line at National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, England-
Weiner is represented in New York City by Marian Goodman Gallery, in London and Milan by Lisson Gallery, in Paris by Yvon Lambert Gallery, in Los Angeles by Regen Projects, in London by BlainSouthern, in Reykjavik by i8 Galleri, in Tel Aviv by Dvir Gallery, in Switzerland by Mai 36 Gallery., in Italy by Giorgio Persano Gallery and in Portugal by Cristina Guerra Contemporary Art.
Among his many honors are National Endowment for the Arts Fellowships (1976 and 1983), a Guggenheim Fellowship (1994), Wolfgang Hahn Prize (1995), a Skowhegan Medal for Painting/Conceptual Art (1999), An Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from the Graduate Center, City University of New York, USA, (2013) and most recently Weiner was awarded the Roswitha Haftmann Prize, Zurich, Switzerland (2015). On the occasion of the Drawing Center’s 2012 Spring Gala, where Weiner was being honored for his contributions to contemporary art, fellow artist Ed Ruscha and Mason Williams created a three-minute tribute in the form of a parody of Bob Dylan’s legendary music video for “Subterranean Homesick Blues” with placards featuring Weiner text pieces like “stars don’t stand still in the sky” and “water in milk exists.”2012 : GREEN AS WELL AS BLUE AS WELL AS RED. Brest: Zédélé éditions , Reprint Collection. (First edition : London: Jack Wendler, 1972.)
Weiner and his wife Alice lived on Bleecker Street for over thirty years before moving to his current residence and studio in the West Village, in what was once an old laundromat built in 1910 and was transformed into a five-level town house designed by the firm LOT-EK in 2008.