Laib Wax Room
The Laib Wax Room, lined with fragrant beeswax and illuminated by a single bare light bulb, is the first permanently installed artwork at the Phillips since the Rothko Room in 1960. German artist Wolfgang Laib (b. 1950) installed the work in a space he helped to select in the original Phillips house. The Phillips Laib Wax Room is also the first wax room that Laib has created for a specific museum. Accommodating one to two people at a time, it offers a personal, meditative encounter.
To install the work, Where have you gone – where are you going?, Laib melted approximately 440 pounds—at a constant temperature to achieve a uniform golden hue. He used tools such as a spatula, spackle knife, electric heat gun, and warm iron to apply the wax, on the walls and ceiling of the 6-by-7-by-10-foot space.
For Laib, The Phillips Collection was a logical choice for the work because of its intimate, experiential character. Laib visited the Rothko Room for the first time in October 2011, and it left a profound impression. “A wax chamber has a very deep and open relationship to Rothko’s paintings,” he explains. To enter a wax room, Laib says, is to be “in another world, maybe on another planet and in another body.”
Laib began working in beeswax in 1988 and has used removable wax plates to create wax rooms for exhibitions at the Museum of Modern Art, New York (1988), the Kunstmuseum Stuttgart, Germany (1989), the De Pont Museum of Contemporary Art, Tilburg, the Netherlands (1990), and the Kunstmuseum Bonn, Germany (1992). Laib went on to create beeswax chambers in nature—his first, created in 2000, is situated in a cave of the French Pyrenees and is accessible only by footpath; his most recent is on his property in southern Germany.
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 produced 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 performed this ritual every morning during an installation at the Phillips in 2011.
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. Wolfgang Laib’s Pollen from Hazelnut, his largest pollen piece to date, was recently installed in the atrium of the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
Laib lives and works in Germany and India. Born in Metzingen in 1950, he originally studied medicine, but in 1972, he turned to art. His work has been the focus of major exhibitions in France, Germany, Spain, Mexico, Bolivia, India, and Japan, and at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, and the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C. Laib's work is in numerous private and public collections around the world, including the Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, France; the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; the Kunstmuseum Bonn, Germany; the Kunsthaus, Zurich, Switzerland; and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Helsinki, Finland.
The Laib Wax Room is supported by The Phillips Collection Dreier Fund for Acquisitions; gifts in memory of trustee Caroline Macomber; Brian Dailey and Paula Ballo Dailey; a community of online contributors; and a partial gift of the artist. Wax donated by Sperone Westwater, New York.