Connect with us

DailyArtMagazine.com – Art History Stories

Pollen, Purity and Patience: A journey of creation with Wolfgang Laib

Wolfgang Laib installing pollen for an exhibition, Pollen from Hazelnut exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, USA.

Contemporary Art

Pollen, Purity and Patience: A journey of creation with Wolfgang Laib

Wolfgang Laib (born 1950) is a contemporary German sculptor. He works with natural materials that emanate life energies: milk, pollen, rice and beeswax along with wood, stone and brass to create large- scale, site-specific installations. Laib is deeply inspired by nature, the teachings of St. Francis and the Asian philosophies of Taoism, Zen Buddhism and Lao-tse. Laib creates works that are not about himself, but refer to the ”essence of life’’. His work is undefinable, though it embodies elements of performance art, minimalism and conceptual art.

Wolfgang Laib collecting pollen.
Wolfgang Laib collecting pollen, author and date unknown. Pinterest.

Early Life

Wolfgang Laib was born on March 25, 1950 in Metzingen, Germany. When he was around twelve years old, the family moved to a small village close to Biberach an der Riss where his father had constructed a splendid glass house surrounded by a lush landscape with forest and meadows bursting with pollen. Living here greatly impacted the entire family over the years. Laib’s family also had a great curiosity and appreciation for art. They traveled around Europe and abroad to Turkey, India and several Asian countries to learn about the cultures from where the art works they so admired originated.

Wolfgang Laib, Brahmanda,
Wolfgang Laib, Brahmanda, black granite, sunflower oil, black smoke and rice, 2016, private collection. Pinterest.

Laib began to study medicine in 1968 at the University of Tuebingen. Although his father was a doctor, he did not pressure Laib to follow in his footsteps. During the course of his studies, Laib became disenchanted with the medical world, so he turned to art. Born out of tension, he created his first sculpture from stone in 1972 titled Brahmanda (Sanskrit for a ‘universal egg’). Even though Laib completed his medical education, he had already decided halfway through his studies that he would become an artist. His family fully supported his decision and following his graduation, Laib returned to his family’s village house to begin work on his first Milk Stone piece.

Wolfgang Laib, detail of a Milk Stone piece
Wolfgang Laib, detail of a Milkstone piece; still from exhibition multimedia, 2013, Museum of Modern Art, New York, USA.

Milk

Before Laib started his creative journey with pollen, he worked with stone. Taking a pure white square of Carrara marble, Laib meticulously sanded a subtle rim around the top surface of the stone that took him several months. Once completed, he slowly and carefully poured a thin layer of milk over the stone that filled up to the edges around the rim and prevented the milk from spilling over. The still milk created a reflective surface that transformed permanence to transience. To avoid spoilage, the milk was changed every couple of days. Laib’s first Milk Stone was created in 1975. This quiet observance expands upon stillness and ritual. Since then, he has created other milk stones of similar shape that vary in size. Laib still continues to explore this idea.

Wolfgang Laib, Pollen from Hazelnut
Wolfgang Laib, Pollen from Hazelnut, 2013, installation in the Museum of Modern Art, New York, USA.

Pollen

Starting in 1977, Laib began to hand harvest hazelnut pollen from the fields, meadows and woods that surrounded his family’s home in the village. This solitary practice continued for days and months on end. Repetitive and meditative, this routine became an intimate, daily ritual for Laib as he gathered the pollen by hand. This slow art practice allowed him to learn about the pollen on a deeper level so he could truly understand this living material.

In 2013, Laib created Pollen from Hazelnut, a massive, site-specific work that was installed in the atrium at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. For twenty years, he had collected hazelnut pollen from the land around his home and used this pollen in the exhibition. This was his largest pollen installation to date.

For every exhibition, Laib sifts the raw pollen onto the floor of galleries and museums creating basic, geometric shapes. Aside from hazelnut pollen, he has also collected and worked with pine and dandelion pollen among many other varieties. Following every pollen exhibition, Laib recollects and cleans the pollen then stores it in glass jars for later use.

Wolfgang Laib, There is no beginning and no end, beeswax and wooden understructure
Wolfgang Laib, There is no beginning and no end, beeswax and wooden understructure, 1999-2001, installation at Haus der Kunst, Munich, Germany. Art 21.

Beeswax

From working with pollen, beeswax seemed to follow inevitably. Laib first began to work with beeswax in 1987. The purity of its color generates a warmth and its fragrant aroma deepens the experience of the viewers. In 2000, Laib created his first beeswax chamber in nature inside a cave in the French Pyrenees that can only be reached by footpath.

Following a trip to Ravenna, Italy, Laib was inspired and created a temporary installation inside the basilica of Sant’Apollinaire in Classe in 2014. This triangular structure or ziggurat was composed of singular squares of beeswax. Installed inside this sacred place, the power of nature unfolded in time and space.

In 2013, Laib created a small chamber made entirely from beeswax titled, Where have you gone-where are you going? He used 440 pounds of melted beeswax heated at just the right temperature to maintain its radiance to complete this piece. Laib used many different tools to apply the beeswax and the work is permanently installed at the Phillips Collection in Washington D.C. Over the years, he has created several beeswax installations at museums in America and Europe that include the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Kunstmuseum Stuggart in Germany, The Depont Museum of Contemporary Art, Tilburg, Netherlands and the Kunstmuseum Bonn in Germany.

Wolfgang Laib, The Rice Meals, 1992
Wolfgang Laib, The Rice Meals, 1992, rice and brass plates, view of installation at the Musee d’Art Contemporain, Bordeaux, France. Pinterest.

Rice

Laib began to work with rice in 1983. He took dry, white rice and often paired it with marble sculptures, pollen or hand-crafted brass objects. These rice works present themselves as offerings referencing his many trips abroad where he was exposed to temples and shrines. His first Rice House was made in 1988, a roughly carved, unpolished marble in a peaked, rectangular form surrounded by tiny stacks of rice and pollen. Other rice works followed including the memorable, Passageway Inside-Downside, multiples of small, brass boats that rested upon islands of rice. In 2011, Laib created Unlimited Ocean, a colossal grid composed of 30,000 small rice mounds and seven piles of pollen that nearly covered the entire gallery space at the Art Institute in Chicago.

Wolfgang Laib, Unlimited Ocean
Wolfgang Laib, Unlimited Ocean installation with rice and pollen, 2007, Wolfgang Laib: Without Time – Without Body – Without Place exhibition at Sean Kelly Gallery, New York, USA.

Since Laib began to work as an artist, he has had numerous exhibitions in galleries, museums and scared spaces around the world. In 2006, Laib established a studio in southern India near Madurai where he spends at least two months a year. In 2015, he was honored with the Praemium Imperiale, one of the most prestigious art awards in the world given by the Imperial family of Japan. Today, Laib, his wife, Carolyn Reep, an Asian art conservator, and their daughter, Chandra Maria, live and work between New York, Germany and India.

‘’I think art stands for something new, something fresh and something for the future.’’

Wolfgang Laib from video trailer for ”Without Time, Without Place, Without Body” exhibition organized by the Museo Novecento, Florence, Italy. October 2019-January 2020.

Wolfgang Laib’s love and devotion for the materials he works with transcend the physical. From ephemeral to eternal, his works magnify the natural world and the universe, encouraging us to contemplate humanity’s lost connection with nature. By reawakening our curiosity, Laib gives us hope to repair our relationship with the living world.


For more on sculptures inspired by nature check out:

Artist and Writer. Marga is fascinated and inspired by the ancient world, art history and archaeology. You can find more of her work here: www.margapatterson.com

Comments

More in Contemporary Art

  • 21st century

    Andrés Marti: Every Experience Generates Roots

    By

    According to Goethe, melancholy is a sense of sadness whose causes are unknown. Its symptoms are the only thing you are aware of, that’s why you end up intensely feeling the loss of something, but you don’t know exactly what it is. All you can do...

  • 21st century

    Painting of the Week: Banksy, Season’s Greetings

    By

    What if a children’s game turned into a frightening nightmare? And what would you think if the cause was… you? In Port Talbot, UK, Banksy created a graffiti showing an imaginary but terrible consequence of pollution, whose victim is a kid and whose cause is (also)...

  • 21st century

    Ways in Which Art Can Fight Climate Change

    By

    In the last few years people, especially the new generations, have raised their voices as they understood that there was not much time left to save their future. Scientists had warned us about the melting of glaciers, the islands of plastic in the oceans, the loss...

  • View of Lynda Benglis' exhibition 'In the Realm of Senses' at Museum of Cycladic Art. Author's photo. View of Lynda Benglis' exhibition 'In the Realm of Senses' at Museum of Cycladic Art. Author's photo.

    21st century

    The Post-Minimalistic and Feminist Art of Lynda Benglis

    By

    Post-Minimalism refers to all art practices that came out in the late 1960s. It embraces Body Art, Performance Art, Process Art, and aspects of Conceptual Art. Artists create sculptures that have nothing to do with the traditional ones. For example, they are abstract, and they have...

  • The Art of Mia Makila: Grim Rreaper The Art of Mia Makila: Grim Rreaper

    21st century

    The Art of Mia Makila: 13 Important Questions

    By

    Viewing the art of Mia Makila is like walking into a labyrinthine psyche masquerading as a shop. You open the door, the bell rings, and you realise that you’re the only customer. This shop only accepts one customer at a time because with each one it...

To Top

Just to let you know, DailyArt Magazine’s website uses cookies to personalise content and adverts, to provide social media features and to analyse traffic. Read cookies policy