Commencement 2013: Honorary Degree Citations

President William P. Kelly with honorary degree recipients Lawrence Weiner (l.) and Robert Wilson (r.)


William P. Kelly
President, The Graduate Center

Honorary Degrees Awarded to

Mr. Lawrence Weiner, Doctor of Humane Letters Reading of Citation and Hooding by Professor Kevin Murphy

Mr. Robert Wilson, Doctor of Humane Letters Reading of Citation and Hooding by Dr. Frank Hentschker


You are a founding figure of conceptual art, an exemplar of wide-ranging innovation—the kind that changes minds, challenges perceptions, and alters our understanding of human experience.

You are one of our own—Bronx born and educated in the public schools of New York—and through your work, you've helped establish our city as the cultural capital of the world.

Yours has been a career that flourished from the outset, with the first presentation of your work in California in 1960. Through the sixties and seventies you defined and extended the boundaries of conceptual art, challenging traditional verities about artistry, about the relationship between maker and viewer. Every form of media became grist for your capacious mill: video, film, books, audiotape, sculpture, graphic and performance art, opera.

With time, words have become your medium of choice and wall paintings your favored modality. There, the interaction of punctuation, shape, and color adds inflection to your texts. Your work has, again and again, destabilized the status quo. With art, you have said that it is possible "to present logic structures that can change people's perception of their entire existence." Your career has provided a vivid demonstration of that fundamental principle.

You have enjoyed solo exhibitions at such celebrated venues as the Museum Ludwig in Cologne; London's Institute of Contemporary Art; the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles; the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis; and the Smithsonian's Hirshhorn Museum in Washington.

Your much anticipated and widely hailed retrospective at the Whitney Museum of American Art was a triumph of the first order. In the words of Roberta Smith, the show was a "respite, wake-up call and purification rite all in one . . . required viewing for anyone interested in today's art."

Your many honors include two National Endowment for the Arts Fellowships, a Guggenheim Fellowship, the Wolfgang Hahn Prize, and the Skowhegan Medal for Painting and Conceptual Art.

For a body of work driven by passion, imagination, and commitment, and an ability to make us reflect and question even our most deeply held assumptions, it is a privilege for the Graduate Center of the City University of New York to confer upon you the degree of Doctor of Humane Letters, honoris causa.

May 23, 2013


Like your works, yours has been a career epic in scale.

You are widely recognized as the theatre's leading avant-garde director and playwright. You are, as well, a celebrated painter, sculptor, designer, and video artist. A towering figure in so many fields of artistic endeavor, you escape categorization and definition. Susan Sontag came closer than anyone to assessing the scale of your achievement when she described the totality of your career as bearing the signature of "a major artistic creation."

Born in Waco, a University of Texas graduate, you came to New York in 1963, earned a degree in interior design at Pratt Institute, and, in 1968, founded the experimental performance company Byrd Hoffman School of Byrds.

With such signature works as Deafman Glance (1970) and The Life and Times of Joseph Stalin (1973)—and of course, the monumental and tradition-shattering Einstein on the Beach (1976)—you began to create a theatre in which images override narrative, performances in which silence speaks.

After the enthusiastic reception of Einstein, you created original pieces for the Festival d'Automne in Paris, the Salzburg Festival, and the Berliner Ensemble. You have brought your singular conception of theatre to the operatic repertoire with productions at the Metropolitan, La Scala, and the opera houses of Zurich, Hamburg, Houston, and Los Angeles.

Your drawings, furniture designs, and installations have been displayed throughout the world, and retrospective exhibitions of your work have been mounted at the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris and the Boston Museum of Fine Arts.

A master teacher, you share your vision every summer with students and other professionals at the remarkable collaborative space you've called into being at the Watermill Center in Long Island. The repercussions of that multidisciplinary laboratory for innovation resonate across the world.

Richly honored, you have received an Obie for direction, the Golden Lion for sculpture from the Venice Biennale, the Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize for Lifetime Achievement, the National Design Award for Lifetime Achievement, two Guggenheim Fellowships, and a Rockefeller Foundation Fellowship Award, and have been named a "commandeur des arts et des lettres" by the French Ministry of Culture.

For your extraordinary achievements and the rich gifts you have given us, it is a privilege for the Graduate Center of the City University of New York to confer upon you the degree of Doctor of Humane Letters, honoris causa.

May 23, 2013

Photo credit: Howard Jay Heyman

Submitted on: MAY 25, 2013

Category: Commencements