In celebration of the Laib Wax Room‘s first anniversary as a permanent installation at The Phillips Collection, Membership Associate and Marketing & Communications Intern Rhiannon Newman, who was one of four assistants in the preparation and installation, describes her experience in a four part series.
Photos: Rhiannon Newman
The scent of the wax permeates this room. It penetrates every pore—you could sweat the smell of beeswax. It absorbs into the follicles of your hair. It embeds deep into your clothes and when you bathe, it hangs like a thick fog in your shower. The smell of wax invades your every waking hour until… you stop smelling it altogether.
I stare irritably at the stranger in the grocery store who has stepped into my personal space. He inhaled deeply, and my tense posture sent him out of the cereal aisle and towards the fresh produce. A moment later I belatedly realize that his sniff was more inquisitive than perverted. I glance down at the beeswax spattered leggings I’m wearing and sheepishly move towards the check out.
Rhiannon Newman, Membership Associate and Marketing & Communications Intern
When I stepped into the room, I was overcome with the sweet fragrance. I actually smelled it before I saw it, walking up the stairs. The first thing I thought of was tea. Tea with honey, of course. Then my mind wandered to exotic travels, steaming hot summers, and spices. I was reminded of nature, damp winters, feather comforters, biscuits (the English kind), and Christmas.
In short, I felt good when I stood in the Laib Wax Room. I even felt warmer being in that bright, small space.
Experiencing the Laib Wax Room. Photo courtesy The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C.
I read the wall label only after leaving the room and discovered that the artist, Wolfgang Laib, was profoundly influenced by his experiences in India and Southeast Asia. My initial thoughts tell me that my experience of the room was also influenced by travels abroad and memories that remain special.
Have you been to see the Laib Wax Room yet? What did it make you think of?
Jane Clifford, Marketing Intern
(Left) Inside Ann Hamilton’s palimpsest (1989) at the Hirshhorn. (Right) Inside the Laib Wax Room at the Phillips. Wolfgang Laib, Wax Room (Where have you gone–where are you going?), 2013. The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C. Photo: Lee Stalsworth
During a recent trip to Over, Under, Next: Experiments in Mixed Media, 1913-Present at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, I walked into Ann Hamilton’s palimpsest and couldn’t help but think of the Laib Wax Room at The Phillips Collection. All four walls and even the ceiling of the installation at the Phillips are coated with roughly 440 pounds of beeswax; conversely, only the floor of Hamilton’s installation at the Hirshhorn is covered with beeswax tablets.
The installations are comparable in their intimate scale, but that’s about where the similarities between the two end. While Hamilton’s work provides endless content for contemplation (including thousands of hand-written notes and live snails), Wolfgang Laib’s stark room, bare save for a single light bulb, leaves visitors alone with their thoughts and senses.
A closer look at the beeswax tablets coating the floor of Hamilton’s palimpsest. Visitors put on protective booties before entering to prevent damage to the wax floor.
Amy Wike, Publicity and Marketing Coordinator