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Phillips Collection commissions Wolfgang Laib

Phillips Collection board of trustees has voted unanimously to acquire a permanent, site-specific wax room by acclaimed sculptor Wolfgang Laib (b. 1950). Lined with fragrant blocks of beeswax and illuminated by a single bare light bulb, the chamber will be the first permanent installation inaugurated at the Phillips since the Rothko Room in 1960. The artist will install the work in a dedicated space in the original Phillips house, and the Laib Wax Room will open to the public in early 2013.

The Phillips Laib Wax Room is the first time the artist has conceived of and created a wax room for a specific museum. To install the work, Laib will heat beeswax, apply it methodically onto the walls of a dedicated space that he was involved in selecting, then smooth the wax with a warm iron. This small, echoing, and cocoon-like chamber will offer a personal, meditative encounter. The experience, upon entering, is immediate and intense with the comforting scent of beeswax. The Phillips Laib Wax Room will accommodate one or two visitors at a time.

The artist began working in beeswax in 1988 and, using removable wax plates, created wax rooms for exhibitions at the Museum of Modern Art, New York (1988), Kunstmuseum Stuttgart, Germany (1989), De Pont Museum, Tilburg, The Netherlands (1990), and Kunstmuseum Bonn, Germany (1992). All four wax rooms entered the museums’ collections and remain on display in Stuttgart and Tilburg.

Laib went on to create beeswax chambers in nature, fulfilling a lifelong dream. His first, La chambre des Certitudes (2000), is situated in a granite cave of the French Pyrenees, accessible only by footpath. His most recent, on his own property in southern Germany, is an insulated shaft of golden beeswax that extends 13 meters into the earth. For these outdoor rooms, Laib initiated the process of heating wax and applying it to the walls with an iron that he will use at the Phillips.

Wolfgang Laib installing a wax room on his property in southern Germany. Courtesy of the artist.
Over four decades, Laib has used organic substances associated with life-giving sustenance—milk, pollen, beeswax, rice—to create art of extreme simplicity and meditative power. In 1975, he created his first Milkstone, an ongoing series in which the slight concavity of a polished white marble slab is filled daily with fresh milk. Phillips Curator at Large Klaus Ottmann (who organized Laib’s international retrospective that originated at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in 2000) performed the ritual every morning during a brief installation at the Phillips last year.

Laib’s pollen pieces are also highly ritualistic—in spring and summer the artist collects dandelion, hazelnut, pine, buttercup, and moss pollens from fields surrounding his home and then displays the delicate material in simple jars or sifted directly onto the gallery floor. His largest pollen piece to date at roughly 18 x 21 feet, Wolfgang Laib: Pollen from Hazelnut, will be installed by the artist in the atrium of the Museum of Modern Art in New York in early 2013.

Wolfgang Laib lives and works in Germany and India. Born in Metzingen in 1950, the artist studied medicine and in 1972 began making artwork after a three-month stay in India where he examined the local drinking water for his dissertation. A decade later, Laib participated in Documenta 7 in Kassel, Germany, and in 1986 had his first solo exhibition at Musée d’art moderne de la ville de Paris in France. His work has been the focus of major exhibitions in Europe at the Kunstmuseum Bonn, Germany; Kunsthaus Bregenz, Austria; Haus der Kunst, Munich, Germany; Fondation Beyeler Riehen, Basel, Switzerland; Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, Madrid, Spain; Musée de Grenoble, France; and Fondazione Merz, Turin, Italy. The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, and the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C., have hosted major exhibitions of his work, as have the Museo Universitario Arte Contemporáneo, Mexico City, Mexico, and Museo Nacional de Arte de La Paz, Bolivia. His work is in numerous private and public collections, including the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C., Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, CA; Museum of Modern Art, NY; Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, France; De Pont Foundation, Tilburg, The Netherlands; Kunstmuseum Bonn, Germany; and Museum of Contemporary Art, Helsinki, Finland.

The Phillips Collection
600 21st Street, NW, Washington, D.C

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