Team Wax Room

Photo: Klaus Ottmann

The team, left to right: Jeremiah Holland, Rachel Hrbek, Wolfgang Laib, Bjorn Schmidt, Rhiannon Newman, Tyler Smith. Photo: Klaus Ottmann

Wolfgang Laib created a permanent beeswax chamber at the Phillips in just four days, thanks to a team effort:

  • Laib’s assistant Björn Schmidt accompanied him from Germany and was the artist’s right-hand man throughout installation, from achieving the right consistency for the melted wax to applying it to the walls and ceiling and burnishing the surface.
  • Phillips museum assistants Rhiannon Newman and Tyler Smith were selected by lottery from a call for volunteers among qualified staff artists. They worked daily to break apart large blocks of raw beeswax and melt it in carefully timed batches.
  • Corcoran College of Art and Design students Jeremiah Holland and Rachel Hrbek were selected from their class by a faculty member to volunteer alongside Rhiannon and Tyler.

Listen to this segment on Metro Connection, a radio program on D.C.’s NPR station WAMU 88.5 for firsthand perspectives from Jeremiah and Rhiannon and to hear details about the process.

Before installation even began, numerous individuals played huge roles, from the project’s curator Klaus Ottmann–Curator at Large and longtime friend of the artist (Klaus also organized Wolfgang Laib’s 2000 retrospective at the Hirshhorn)–to Dan Datlow, director of facilities and security, who supervised preparations to the space including a freshly poured concrete floor.

Welcome to our Wax Room

The Phillips's first permanent installation since the Rothko Room (1960), the Laib  Wax Room opens March 2, 2013. Wolfgang Laib, Wax Room (Where have you gone–where are you going?), 2013.The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C. Photo: Lee Stalsworth

The Phillips’s first permanent installation since the Rothko Room (1960), the Laib Wax Room opens March 2, 2013. Wolfgang Laib, Wax Room (Where have you gone–where are you going?), 2013. The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C. Photo: Lee Stalsworth

I have made beeswax chambers over the past twenty-five years or so, and more recently I have felt that I would not make them for temporary exhibitions, one after the other, but only if they could be permanent. A wax chamber is something like a house, anyway: You build a house and you don’t take it down. A wax chamber is also something that you could never explain, and it would be a pity to try to do so, because it’s so simple and also very complex.

Wolfgang Laib, Artforum.com