Wolfgang Laib, part 1


This post was originally written by A.S. on the Yahoo Ragged Cloth Cafe email list. It has been transferred here with an image, as an example of how this format for Ragged Cloth might work.

This begins the transferred post:
For this month I chose Wolfgang Laib. He is one of my favorite artists, and I’m excited to see how you all interpret his art and apply it to fiber arts and your own work. I don’t want to lead the direction of the conversation too much, however, so for today I’m just going to post some things for you to read. I hope you will respond with your thoughts, feelings, and ideas.

From http://www.guggenheim.org/exhibitions/singular_forms/highlights_12a.html (with photo)

Wolfgang Laib finds spirituality in the simplicity of everyday, organic substance –”milk, pollen, beeswax, rice”–that provide sustenance or engender life. In 1975 he created his first Milkstone in what has become an ongoing series of elemental sculptures. A rectangular block of polished white marble containing a slight depression on its upper surface, the piece is filled with a thin layer of milk to foster the illusion of a solid form. Though an inert object, this sculpture requires ritualistic participation. Laib performs the first act of pouring the milk when the piece is displayed, but after this initial gesture, the collector or museum staff must clean and refill the stone each day it is on view.

Ritual plays a central role in all of Laib’s highly reductive art. He lives in a remote region of Germany’s Black Forest, communing with the natural world outside his house as a painter would work in his or her studio. During the spring and summer months he collects pollen, including dandelion, hazelnut, pine, buttercup, and moss varieties, from the fields surrounding his home. He displays this laboriously gathered material in simple glass jars or sifts it through sheets of muslin directly onto the floor to create large, square fields of spectacular color. He also molds the brilliantly pigmented dust into cones, as in The Five Mountains Not to Climb On. Though intimate in scale and intensely fragile, this hazelnut pollen sculpture alludes to the monumentality suggested by its title. The notion that there is infinitude in the infinitesimal is beautifully manifest in Laib’s spare but highly aesthetic practice.

Journal of Contemporary Art interview:


New York City, November 1986
Klaus Ottmann: You studied medicine. How did you get into art?

Wolfgang Laib: The more I knew about the natural sciences, the more I saw that they were too narrow for me and it’s just not what this body, what all these things are all about.

Ottmann: Did you ever think of going into something like holistic medicine?

Laib: No, because that would have been too small a step, and I tried to make a big step. It’s not about homeopathy or anything like that.

Ottmann: What kind of art did you start with?

Laib: I left university and half a year later I was already making my milkstones.

Ottmann: Where did you get the idea for the milkstones?

Laib: The milkstones are the direct answer to what I left, to what I found milk and stone are about. Because milk is not what is told in hygiene. You can teach everything about this liquid but have no idea of what it is.

Ottmann: When did you start working with pollen?

Laib: That came about two years later. This, of course, I would also have never done without studying medicine and avoiding an art college… (more)

Sperone Westwater site with photos of works, essays, biography:



3 Responses to “Wolfgang Laib, part 1”

  1. 1 june February 1, 2007 at 2:28 pm

    M. from Ragged Cloth Yahoo wrote:
    >And it seems to me that the
    “Five Mountains…” (the gorgeous pollen piece) would be so fragile that
    the construction of a vitrine or protective enclosure would be essential
    — and yet would then turn the piece into an object rather than a piece
    of magic.

    In reading about Laib I suddenly realized I’d seen his work, in Oxford’s
    Museum of Modern Art about a dozen years ago, as part of a show about
    “artists in the garden” or something like that. I didn’t take in his name
    at the time (and can’t recall any of the other exhibits, alas!)

    His pollen was in a little room of its own — you stood at the door and
    gazed in, and at first didn’t realise that the yellow stuff was pollen —
    then when you did, you thought “ohmigawd, why pollen?” Perhaps it was the
    strangeness of the material, and thoughts about the labour involved in
    collecting it, that has made that exhibit, and only that in the whole show,
    stay with me.

    >the obsessive nature of putting color
    onto fabric is wholly outside the product — that is, while I have to
    think about the elements of design and my ultimate vision, the act of
    painting itself won’t be much reflected in the final product.

    This brings to mind two kinds of artists – the first is those like Howard
    Hodgkin , who
    work on a piece for years, painting over what’s already there. But they’re
    doing something a little different – altering one thing and then having to
    reassess what that does to the whole work, alter something else, etc etc.
    Then, more scarily, there are “outsider artists” who may well be in the
    grip of an obsessive disorder, filling square feet if not square miles of
    surfaces with lines, shapes, colours. Madge Gill, who lived in East London,
    is one:
    — but with these artists it seems the act IS the final product.

  2. 2 june February 1, 2007 at 2:28 pm

    E. in Ragged Cloth yahoo wrote:
    Laib wanting to stay away from cities reminds me of the advice Penny
    McMorris (I think) gave to art quilters: stay away from art quilt
    exhibits. Perhaps Laib wants to come up with ideas he feels came from
    himself and not be unduly influenced by the numerous artists and
    galleries a city has to offer. That is my interpretation of what he
    means by “situation”. Or perhaps a city just has too much stimulation
    and energy for what he personally feels comfortable with; does he need a
    contemplative place to come up with his contemplative art?

    The comparison with Andy Goldsworthy is interesting to me, at least
    partly because I am more familiar with Goldsworthy’s work than Laib’s.
    Goldsworthy also seems the contemplative, loner type. Both do their
    installations where the work takes them – sometimes in the middle of a
    field, sometimes into museums in those raucous cities. Why do I assume
    they are more comfortable alone in a woods? Can you imagine them
    throwing parties like Andy Warhol’s?

  3. 3 june February 1, 2007 at 2:27 pm

    C. from Ragged Cloth Yahoo wrote:

    Looking at Laib’s work more, I want to take back the “colder” part of my
    post and say, less fluid, perhaps.

    But his desire to live outside a “situation” seems really odd to me (and I
    think maybe this is due to translation issues???). But wherever you live is
    a situation and a reality and an actuality, and one responds to it
    inevitably. I like to think we can find truth (and beauty) in most
    situations, and I’m made uneasy by his seeming to say that this can’t be
    found in a city for some reason. I could easily accept if he was saying the
    *he* personally couldn’t live in a city. . . .

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