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Pollination by Wolfgang Laib
la-pollinisation-de-wolfgang-laib - ARTACTIF
July 2024 | Reading time: 21 Min | 0 Comment(s)

About the exhibition “Wolfgang Laib. A mountain that we cannot climb. For Monet”, on view at the Musée de l’Orangerie in Paris until July 8.

I have often had the opportunity to make great discoveries in the field of contemporary art at the Orangerie Museum in Paris, in addition to taking great pleasure in front of the illustrious picture rails devoted to modern art. The meeting with Wolfgang Laib was no exception to the rule. The first modern French art museum, especially famous for its immense circular Water Lilies that Claude Monet offered to the French state at the end of the First World War as a symbol of peace, never rests on its laurels, and it's better this way. Two particularly interesting rooms, that of the focus on the collection and that of contemporary counterpoints on the Water Lilies, thus accompany the dynamic and constantly renewed approach of this prestigious collection.

At the end of the afternoon of March 5, 2024, everyone held their breath in the oval room of the illustrious symbols of peace: Wolfgang Laib was there to create A mountain that cannot be climbed. Time suspended. Twelfth guest of the Contemporary Counterpoints program launched five years ago, the German artist became the first to create an in situ installation in dialogue with Claude Monet's panoramic frieze. A work of art, however, doomed to disappear the same evening from its base, since the donation by Claude Monet in 1922 of his panoramic frieze of the Water Lilies prohibited the exhibition of works by other artists. Yes, we are in “the Sistine Chapel of Impressionism”.

Following a silent ritual, the man in white little by little formed a tiny golden embankment that day by depositing a granular powder of an intense yellow on a stele, spatula by spatula. Pollen. Total silence for the entire duration of what it does not seem abusive to me to call a ceremony. An invitation to meditation. And a surge of applause after the jar of material was closed, when the artist took a side step. The “show” is perfectly put together. Obviously, we can wonder. Intending to be in close connection with nature, dialoguing with the vast water landscape dotted with water lilies, willow branches, reflections of trees and clouds of the impressionist painter, the work of art seems very modest. The gesture too. But suddenly, the infinitely small meets the infinitely large. And it’s moving.

“Pollen is the origin of life, it is not a pigment to make a painting,” notes Wolfgang Laib. Who is regularly invited throughout the world, from the Beyeler Foundation in Basel to Moma in New York via the Venice Biennale, to conduct this ceremonial consisting of spreading grains of hazel, pine or pine cheesecloth in museums. dandelions that he harvests every spring in the fields and forests of Baden-Württemberg, near his workshop located on the edge of Hochdorf, a village in southern Germany. It is there that he lives half the year, spending the rest of his time in India, where he followed his parents who loved art and travel in the 1960s. The artist born in 1950 in Metzingen , in Germany, is naturally steeped in Hindu spirituality. Soaked up as much reading of Lao Tzu as of Nietzsche and Arthur Schopenhauer. “I can’t create anything as beautiful as nature. Through my art, I have the chance to participate in it,” he says.

“Along with milk, rice, and beeswax, pollen has been one of his favorite materials for more than forty years, from which he creates his installations: alcove of fragrant wax, immense solar monochromes made of pollen. drawn on the ground, alignments of small pyramidal piles of rice…” Journalist Anne-Cécile Sanchez gives us a fascinating portrait of the life and work of Wolfgang Laib in the May issue of the art magazine L'Oeil. “The shapes are geometric – rectangles, squares, triangles – or they borrow from the vocabulary of architecture – house, tower, staircase, ziggurat (Mesopotamian religious building). The repetition of gestures and rigorous lines is at the heart of his work, which has persisted for forty years, taking on a different meaning over time. He likes to say that he does not create but “shows” the beauty present in nature. »

And that’s surely the secret. The reason why contemporary art enthusiasts idolize it a bit like religious people idolize a god. An intense spirituality in fact permeates the air upon entering a room. I also said to myself that the rituals carried out by Wolfgang Laib in the world of contemporary art perhaps ultimately amounted to kinds of masses or other ceremonies during which the faithful meditate on something greater than themselves. I imagine they could do the same in the middle of a clearing, immersed in nature. But a clearing does not settle in the heart of large cities like a museum does.

A graduate of the University of Tübingen, Wolfgang Laib could have worked as a doctor, like his father. Or become a Buddhist monk. But it is art that he chose to work to cure the ills of the world. In 1992, he created a large square of pollen in the forum of the Pompidou Center, “quickly dispersed by the ventilation system and passing pigeons,” recalls an art critic. “The protocol has not always been infallible,” recognizes Anne-Cécile Sanchez… “But today it is more contemporary than ever. The economy of means of his installations, which often require little more than a few jars, a bag of rice, and infinite patience, appeals to museums. » That’s understandable. What intrigues me more about this type of itinerary is the way in which such a pioneering artist was able to sell his works of art successfully on the contemporary art market in his time, therefore from his very beginnings. in the 1970s, when cultural institutions didn't care about saving money or talking about the climate emergency...

Since 2019, Wolfgang Laib, delighted to note the timeless and universal character of his art, has been in dialogue with works of the past, always to invite us to reflect on the beauty and fragility of nature through an essential, elementary encounter. Like at the San Marco convent in Florence, with the paintings of Fra Angelico, or at the Chapel of the Magi at the Medici Riccardi palace. “It thus establishes a relationship based on subtle perceptions between visible art and the invisible spirit,” explains Sophie Eloy, collection officer in charge of Contemporary Counterpoints at the Orangerie Museum. In the basement of the Orangerie Museum, the Rice Field installation invites reflection on the cycle of life and death. And if the mound of pollen from the inauguration has indeed disappeared from the large oval room, look carefully: the artist left a mountain of hazel pollen under a window in the small adjoining rotunda.


Valibri en RoulotteArticle written by Valibri in Roulotte

Illustration: Mountain, 2024
Courtesy Thaddeus Ropac gallery, London - Paris - Salzburg - Seoul
© Musée de l’Orangerie / Sophie Crépy

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