Director’s Desk: Laib and Lacquer, Brass, and Rice

Works on view in Wolfgang Laib: Without Beginning and Without End at Sperone Westwater. Photos: Dorothy Kosinski

Works on view in Wolfgang Laib: Without Beginning and Without End at Sperone Westwater. Photos: Dorothy Kosinski

Looking at more moving work by Wolfgang Laib on my last visit to New York, on view at Sperone Westwater gallery in NYC through March 30. On the left, Burmese red lacquer over wood. On the right, the large golden ziggurat is made from raw beeswax (like our Laib Wax Room) over a wooden understructure and, on the shelves above, boats made of folded brass are nestled in rice.

Dorothy Kosinski, Director

Installing the Laib Wax Room in 3 Minutes

Watch the installation process of the Laib Wax Room, from transporting the beeswax,  breaking it apart and melting it, applying it to the walls and ceiling, and illuminating it with a 40 watt frosted light bulb.

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.