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Indepth Arts News:

"Wolfgang Laib: A Retrospective"
2002-01-27 until 2002-05-09
Museum of Contemporary Art, LaJolla
San Diego, CA, USA United States of America

On view at the Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego's La Jolla location from January 27 through May 19, 2002 is Wolfgang Laib: A Retrospective, the first major survey of the artist's work in the United States. Organized by the American Federation of Arts, the exhibition includes 24 sculptures and installations and 26 drawings that trace the progression of Wolfgang Laib's career over the past 28 years, from his series of milkstones (mysterious floor objects that pulse with life) through recent major ziggurat-like wax sculptures of the late 1990s.

The exhibition is curated by Klaus Ottman. Laib is an artist whose work deals with the spirituality of everyday materials and objects. Living in a remote area of Germany's Black Forest, he has since the late 1970s created work of startling originality that draws on universal signs and natural materials. In his art, Laib has gathered pollen to create glowing floor installations; has built rooms and other architectural elements from beeswax (which allude to antiquity), and explored the shamanistic role of the contemporary artist as few others have even attempted.

Included in the exhibition are the milkstones, a group of sculptures that are part of an ongoing series. Each rectangular slab of polished white marble with a barely perceptible depression sanded into its upper surface that is then filled with milk to create the illusion of a solid object. The act of pouring the milk into the hollow is a participatory ritual: Laib performs the initial pouring and then the museum staff empty the stone at the end of each day, clean it, and refill it the next morning, throughout the exhibition.

Like all of his works, Laib's pollen floor pieces reflect his abiding interest in nature. As Margit Rowell, formerly chief curator of the Department of Drawings at The Museum of Modern Art, New York, writer in her essay in the catalog accompanying the exhibition, Laib arrives at his forms through a discipline of complete concentration in which he is no longer separate from the world of nature but a participant in its organic process. He collects pollen from the fields around his home in southern Germany throughout the spring and summer months, and stores the particles in glass jars. He exhibits the pollen in the jars, such as Jars with Pollen from Buttercup, Hazelnut, Dandelion, Pine (2), and Moss (1977-97), or shapes the vibrant yellow dust into cones, as in The Five Mountains Not to Climb On (1984), or sifts it through muslin directly onto a bare stone or concrete floor, as in Pollen From Hazelnut (1992), creating a brilliant field of yellow and orange. Like the replenishing of milk in the milkstones, Laib's pollen pieces are cyclical, with the pollen re-collected and cleaned at the end of an exhibition, to be utilized for future installations.

Asian and Indian influences are revealed in Laib's rice houses that are either sculpted in solid white marble and surrounded by rice, or made of red sealing wax, tin, or silver and filled with rice. Laib has explained that they are inspired by Islamic cemeteries and medieval reliquaries with rice, a literal symbol of nourishment, substituted for bones. Also included are The Rice Meals (1983), piles of rice and pollen heaped on brass plates commonly used in India to bring food and flowers to the temples. Laib's recent works are represented in his large installation and wax pieces, including his wax rooms; life-sized chambers lines with large panels of beeswax, illuminated by bare light bulbs hanging from their ceilings. Beeswax ships such as You will Go Somewhere Else (1995), are installed in a serial progression on wooden scaffolding, inspired by his visit to Tibetan monasteries, where sacred scriptures are stored on freestanding, elevated shelves. A large selection of Laib's exquisitely rendered drawings, which have rarely been exhibited, completes the survey.

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