Sperone Westwater is pleased to announce Without Time, Without Place, Without Body, a new exhibition by Wolfgang Laib housed at the Cappella Pazzi, in the Basilica of Santa Croce, Cappella Magi in Palazzo Medici Riccardi, the chapel of Sepulchre, Cappella Rucellai, in the church of San Pancrazio at the Marino Marini Museum, and the San Marco Museum in Florence, Italy. At these extraordinarily historical venues, Laib’s works interact with the art of Filippo Brunelleschi, Leon Battista Alberti, Benozzo Gozzoli and Beato Angelico. Made from pollen, wood, and beeswax, Laib’s works are endowed with the sensory power of the natural elements that comprise them. In times like these, when all of humanity is searching for a solution to end man’s disastrous relationship with nature, technology and life on the planet, Laib’s art offers a real response to the redefinition of humanism, and not in an exclusively anthropocentric light. Installed within culturally precious locations, this project creates a relationship based on sensitivity to the minimal perceptions of what is visible in art and what is invisible in the soul, and exquisitely binding Renaissance magnificence to contemporary artistic research.
At the San Marco Museum, for the first time in history, a contemporary artist is crossing the thresholds of the convent cells and placing himself in dialogue with the paintings of Fra Angelico. There, Wolfgang Laib intervenes inside the cell with the fresco of Noli me Tangere and the cell of Cosimo il Vecchio frescoed with the Adoration of the Magi, entering the sacred atmosphere of the place with all the delicacy, evanescence and material fragility of his works. The pollen, sieved onto the floor or piled up to form a mountain, has an intense yellow color that recalls the quintessence of spiritual purity, the color of light that also characterizes the paintings of the renaissance artist. The act of collecting pollen in a field and carefully accumulating it as a sculptural mass is a practice based on reflection, concentration, and repetition. Thus, this work of art is charged with symbolic meaning that allows it to exist beyond the coordinates of space and time: Without Time, Without Place, Without Body, as the title of the exhibition suggests. Rarely do we see such a profound encounter between an artist of today and one of the past. The language of the spirit and the language of art merge and their affinity is recognized, surpassing every difference and distance between historical periods and religious worship.
The Capella Magi—built to host the private services of the Medici family—is the oldest remaining part of the Palazzo Medici Riccardi. Inside, Wolfgang Laib exhibits another pollen work within the scarsella in front of the altar. In line with his research, the work is characterized by a formal minimalist language that developed from a practice based on removal and simplification yet enhanced with numerous symbolic references. “A small mountain of pollen,” says Laib, “is surrounded by one of the most incredible works in the history of European art that is also an illustration of the power on horseback. With an intense yellow color, the pollen recalls the quintessence of spiritual purity, the color of light that also characterizes renaissance paintings, and represents the potential beginning of the vegetal world, the origin of life.” In its density and concentration of meanings, Laib’s work interacts with a place dedicated to retreat, prayer and meditation. The chapel, however, exalts the power and opulence of the Medici’s, a lineage that is central to the history of Florence, the Church, and the whole 15th century world. Beyond the magnificence of the garments and colors of the procession, the artwork creates a dialogue with the Adoration of the Christ Child, where painter Filippo Lippi depicts Mary’s little child lying humbly on a meadow in bloom, the true King of the world.
Inside the Rucellai Chapel, built in the late fifteenth century inside the church of San Pancrazio, architect Leon Battista Alberti’s design frames a little temple with two Corinthian columns and an elegant, strigilated frieze. Here, Wolfgang Laib premieres a new work, Towers of Silence (2019), composed of a group of towers made of beeswax and positioned on the marble altar. Similar to the Ziggurats, Laib uses simple geometric shapes. The varying heights of the towers refer to an ideal ascent to a place on high. The interplay between the small sculptures and the architecture that hosts them works entirely on an idea of transcendence, of transition from an earthly condition to a more spiritual one. While the renaissance sarcophagus repairs and isolates the body after life, Laib uses beeswax, not only for the material’s ductile quality and intrinsic luminousness, but also for its soothing and protective properties, known to man since ancient times.
At the center of the Cappella Pazzi, in the first cloister of Filippo Brunelleschi’s Basilica di Santa Croce, Wolfgang Laib’s monumental construction Without Beginning and Without End rises in the chapel: a great pyramid made of steps purely ornamental but suggesting an ascension to the heavens. The Ziggurats are a series of works that the artist began in 1995 and draw on the simplicity and linear nature of Oriental religious architecture such as temples and tombs. Laib symbolically revisits several architectural paradigms, such as the stairway and the pyramid. This sculpture, entirely covered in precious beeswax, suggests a total symbiosis between the work of art and nature. As with his pollen installations, exhibited at San Marco Museum and Palazzo Medici Riccardi, the bond with the natural world is crucial to the work’s existence. The artist does not create from nothing but collects and organizes natural elements into another form, rich in beneficial properties that soothe the body and spirit. In his sculptures, Laib reduces form to its most essential. This simplification process is the first step towards a total awareness that passes through the observation of that which surrounds us and meditation between the visible and the invisible.
Born in 1950 in Metzingen, Germany, Wolfgang Laib originally studied medicine. Disillusioned with Western medicine, he came to view the natural sciences, as well as most other modern thinking, as limited for their dependency on logic and the material world. His search led him to Eastern spiritualism, philosophy and pre-Renaissance thought. Since 1975, Laib has worked exclusively as an artist and has built an international reputation. One of Laib’s retrospectives, organized by the American Federation of the Arts, traveled to the Hirshhorn Museum; Henry Art Gallery, Seattle; Dallas Museum of Art; Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art; Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego; and Haus der Kunst, Munich, (2000-2003). Other recent museum solo exhibitions have been held at the Guangdong Museum of Art, Guangzhou (2004); Fondation Beyeler, Basel (2005-2006); MUAC (Museo Universitario Arte Contemporáneo), Mexico City (2009); The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City (2009-2010); and MMK Museum für Moderne Kunst, Frankfurt (2010). In 2013, Laib’s Pollen from Hazelnut was on view at The Museum of Modern Art, New York, and the Laib Wax Room at The Phillips Collection opened in March of the same year. In 2015, Laib was awarded the Praemium Imperiale award for sculpture. Other recent exhibitions have taken place at the Basilica of Sant’Apollinare in Classe, Ravenna (2014), the Secretariat, Yangon, Myanmar (2017), and the Church of Santa Maria della Spina, Pisa (2017). Laib was also recently included in “Out of Sight! Art of the Senses” at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo. Laib’s work is in private and public collections worldwide, including the Hirshhorn Museum; the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; The Museum of Modern Art, New York; Centre Pompidou, Paris; CAPC (Musée d'art contemporain de Bordeaux); Kunstmuseum Bonn; and Museum of Contemporary Art, Helsinki. Laib had his first solo exhibition with Sperone Westwater in 1979 and subsequent shows in 1981, 1991, 1993, 1995, 1998, 2013, and 2016. He lives and works between Hochdorf, Germany, New York and Ammayanayakkanur, India.