Wolfgang Laib combines natural, perishable materials such as milk, pollen, rice, beeswax, and wood, sometimes also using stone and metals, to create simple forms and environments that connect with Eastern philosophical concepts of timelessness, universality, life, and nature.Read More
Laib's pollen works are the result of a laborious ritual process. Laib began collecting pollen from hazelnuts, buttercups, dandelions, and other plants in 1977. Annually, during summer and spring, the artist collects pollen by hand from the fields and forests surrounding his home village near Germany's Black Forest.
Laib presents the gathered pollen in jars, like in Pollen Jars on a Shelf (2003), or spreads it on the floor, sometimes evenly, other times making small, concentrated mounds. The resulting works are rich in colour and scent, as well as meaning. 'I think everybody who lives knows that pollen is important,' Laib says, noting the symbolism of these life-giving particles.
One of Laib's largest pollen installations, Pollen from Hazelnut (2013) temporarily covered 18-by-21 feet of the atrium of the Museum of Modern Art in New York with bright yellow hazelnut pollen that he had been gathering for over a decade.
Laib first began working with rice in 1983. Laib's 'rice houses' are an enduring motif, in which solid materials in the shape of a basic house are placed upon mounds of rice. Typically, Laib uses marble, as seen in Rice House (1988), Rice House (1996), and Marmorhaus (2011), but he has also made granite and wooden houses.
Additionally, Laib has placed simple brass ships on rising waves of rice for the 'Passageway' series (2013). As with the pollen, Laib also presents rice laid out in mounds, such as his temporary installation Crossing the River (2022) at the Bündner Kunstmuseum Chur, Switzerland.
In 1987, Laib began working with beeswax, creating his first wax chamber, The Passageway, the following year. The Passageway is a wooden hallway construction lined with wax panels and illuminated by two lightbulbs.
In 2013, Laib's first permanent beeswax room installation opened at the Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C. Where have you gone — where are you going? (2013), an otherworldly empty room with beeswax-lined walls, echoes the calming, meditative space of the Collection's Rothko Room. In 2014, Laib completed his largest beeswax project, an entire underground beeswax space beneath Studio Anselm Kiefer in Barjac, France.
Laib also produces smaller-scale beeswax sculptures, such as Wachsschiff (Wax ship) (1996) and Without Beginning and Without End (2005), a wood and wax stair construction.