New York

Wolfgang Laib

Galerie Lelong & Co.

Wolfgang Laib makes refreshingly spare works, at once intimate and quietly intense. They hold their own in the white gallery space, which by reason of the small, compact character of the works comes to seem immense. His Rice House, 1988, and Beeswax House, 1988, are precious gifts from another world of consciousness. Dandelion Pollen, 1988, a radiant yellow square, conveys delicacy yet vividness, transience yet forcefulness; it is the pulverized material of a halo. With this work, Laib gives new life to the Suprematist square, offering an ecstatically sobering experience of the absolute. Indeed, Laib has made art that not only attempts to signify the absolute, but, more important, to catalyze a sense of it. His work blends anti-art and conceptual art, but most of all it is sacred art.

Laib, indeed, acknowledges the relation of his houses to the reliquary chambers of medieval art. Are they to hold, in symbolic form, the bones of a future saint, as the reliquary houses the bodily fragments of forgotten saints? An exhibition catalogue (designed by Laib) for a show at ARC in Paris shows Saint Francis preaching to the birds. I suggest that Laib’s works are visual sermons for the heathen, designed to remind us of spiritual reality, and especially of the spirituality of nature. The spiritual is that which has the power to alter our state of consciousness, giving us a sense of another, more profoundly felt reality. There is healing effect in this alteration. Harald Szeemann has connected this aspect of Laib’s work not only to his education as a doctor—are his rice and pollen pieces psychopharmaceutical, as well as sacramental offerings to the deus abscunditus?—but to the influence of Joseph Beuys. Szeemann considers Laib a latter-day saint in the cult of Beuys.

In fact, a good deal of modern art is, like Laib’s, a form of creative mythology. In traditional society, symbols of the sacred are socially maintained in rituals “through which,” in Joseph Campbell’s words, “the individual is required to experience, or will pretend to have experienced, certain insights, sentiments, and commitments”; that is, will have his or her mind altered. In modern society, where the symbols of the sacred seem hollow but the sense of the sacred is available through altered consciousness, certain individuals will invent symbols, or utilize existing forms—for example, those of simple geometry—to symbolize the experience of altered consciousness and the sense of the sacred it brings with it. Laib is one of those important individuals. His works are creative mythological constructs that imply the continued holiness of nature, despite its exploitation, and that mean to alter our consciousness so that we will become aware of that holiness. Laib reaches to the spiritual immanence of nature, creating works that transcend their origins by touching what is most immanent in the mind.

Donald Kuspit