Collecting pollen is a surgical operation. It takes patience and expertise. Wolfgang Laib has been collecting pollen from hazelnut trees near his home in Southern Germany for the last twenty years. It is this collection of pollen that Laib used to make his Pollen from Hazelnut installation currently in the atrium at MoMA.
There is a hidden aspect to this work. Everyday Laib ritualistically goes to MoMA to clean the pollen of dust or dirt. “It has to be perfect.”
On Wednesday, Laib talked with Agnes Gund about his work. Gund is a fan and a collector of Laib’s work. In her introduction, she mentioned an aspect of making the work, which the viewer is unaware of: the tapping sound of Laibs’ fingers make as he sifts the pollen through a piece of muslin.
Wolfgang LAIB – POLLEN from HAZELNUT
When I go to these type of events, I think that the artist will shed some light on his/her intention. Laib did not. No matter how many times Gund posed the question or the different ways she tried to get at what it was all about, Laib resisted any “art speak.”
Instead, we were treated not only to a overview of his work over the last thirty years, but a look at the three places he lives: a 17th century barn in Southern Germany, a house in Southern India and his apartment in New York. Included in this personal tour, was a photograph of his parents 1950’s glass house on the same piece of property where he now lives. Laib tried to relate how all of these environments contribute to his art practice. In a nod to MoMA, Laib talked about how he felt about the atrium at the museum. He loves the space, especially for his piece. You can view his piece at eye level, and you can also ascend the next four floors and look down on the piece, which changes it.
The most Laib would say about his work and repeated many times, “The work is very simple, but very complex”.
Although a very soft-spoken man, with a buddha-like appearance, Laib spoke passionately about his role in creating any artwork. “I am not a creator. I am just a participant. The pollen is the artwork.”
At the end of the conversation, there was a question and answer period.
Q: How does MoMA intend to store the piece?
Laib: I want all the pollen back. I will sort it and sift it again and make another piece.
Curator of the show: If we don’t give it back, Laib would have to live to be 600 years old to make other pieces.
That’s what I call real recycling.