About Wolfgan Laib.
Don’t Call the Cleaning Crew. That Yellow Spill Is Art.
Wolfgang Laib’s ‘Pollen From Hazelnut,’ at MoMA
By KEN JOHNSONJAN. 31, 2013
I want to stress certain parts of the anticedently downloaded article I found in the N.Y.T.
Thin and bald, with round-framed glasses, Mr. Laib resembles a Buddhist monk for whom gathering pollen is a form of meditation. Exuding an aura of ethereal goodness and sweetness, he seems a kindred spirit of Gandhi’s and the Dalai Lama’s. Watching him harvesting his material and sifting it onto an indoor floor through a fine sieve is mildly inspirational. We should all be so serenely soulful in our jobs.
Considering the quasi-religious dimension of Mr. Laib’s enterprise, I find myself oscillating between belief and skepticism. His pollen fields might have some kind of magical efficacy, spreading gentle, healing vibes for a distressed planet. But a big part of me thinks that Mr. Laib is a canny, professional purveyor of New Age hokum, which he dresses up in suave, Postminimalist style.
He is obviously much indebted to Joseph Beuys, who imbued substances like fat, wax and felt with occult significance and made himself the star of his own cult of personality. Mr. Laib is less overbearing than Beuys was, but despite his seeming modesty, he, too, is a performance artist relying on the power of his own carefully groomed, saintly charisma to incur romantic belief in the otherwise fairly nondescript things he produces.
I do not mean to doubt his sincerity; I am not calling him a charlatan. Nor do I begrudge him his success and his life of pastoral bliss. But I do not like the tendency to sacralize artists and in that way raise whatever they do above earthly questioning. The nadir of that trend came almost three years ago, when Marina Abramovic drew thousands of fans to the MoMA atrium by sitting silently in a chair and allowing people to sit across from her and gaze into her eyes. As if she were the second coming of you know who.
I would not feel so compelled to register a dissent if Mr. Laib’s pollen field were more interesting to look at. Perhaps I should give it more time. If I were to enter into a meditative trance, it might open up to me a whole new mental landscape. But then, so might anything else I beheld in such an altered state.
It could be that such resistance comes from my own failure to live up to the higher spiritual standards of Mr. Laib’s art. Perhaps I am just closed to his sort of enlightenment, to my own disadvantage. Be that as it may, if the artist is more interesting than the art he or she makes, it’s a problem. It is the problem I have with Mr. Laib.
“Pollen From Hazelnut,” runs through March 11 at the Museum of Modern Art, 11 West 53rd Street; (212) 708-9400, moma.org.