The exhibition will include color photographs and projected images depicting Vedic fire rituals, and Pulimalai, a mountain in southern India, where the artist is planning the creation of a monumentally-scaled Brahmanda, an egg-shaped form symbolizing the wholeness of the universe in Indian philosophy, culture, and religion. A group of new drawings related to the photographs will also be on view.
The fire rituals, performed by Brahman priests from Tamil Nadu in southern India, took place in February of 2009 in India and in June of 2009, in connection with an exhibition of works by Wolfgang Laib, at the Fondazione Merz in Turin, Italy, an exhibition space primarily dedicated to the preservation of works by the Italian artist Mario Merz (1925–2003), with whom Laib enjoyed a close personal friendship.
In keeping with his desire that the exhibition at the Merz Foundation not be “… limited to one individual, neither to one place, neither to a certain time,” Laib arranged for it to be inaugurated in February through the enactment of fire rituals on the mountain Melavalavu, north of Madurai, near his studio in India. It concluded in June 2009 when he invited 45 Brahman priests to travel to Turin to conduct a week–long series of rituals called a mahayagna in the foundation's courtyard. Continuing a tradition that dates back thousands of years, ghee (clarified butter), spices, and food were burned in the spirit of sacrifice, to honor and purify the environment with smoke and aromatic fumes.
For the titles of both this exhibition and the one at the Merz Foundation, Laib chose a quotation from one of the Upanishads, the ancient philosophical texts that form the basis of the Hindu Religion.
Wolfgang Laib created his first work of art in 1972 when he discovered a large black rock in a stone quarry near his home in southern Germany. A medical student at the time, he had just returned from three months in India where he was studying the quality of local drinking water for his medical dissertation. Inspired by recollections of quotidian and ceremonial objects he had seen in India, he carved the stone into a perfect ovoid Brahmanda, approximately four feet long. This experience led him to renounce a career in medicine in favor of one in art.
For more than four decades, Wolfgang Laib has used organic substances associated with life-giving sustenance—milk, pollen, beeswax, rice—to create art of extreme simplicity and meditative power. In 1975, he created his first Milkstone, an ongoing series of slabs of white marble with a shallow concavity into which milk is poured daily. Laib’s pollen pieces are also highly ritualistic—in spring and summer the artist collects dandelion, hazelnut, pine, buttercup, and moss pollens from fields surrounding his home and then displays the delicate material in simple jars or sifted directly onto the gallery floor. Wolfgang Laib’s Pollen from Hazelnut, his largest pollen piece to date, was on view in the atrium of The Museum of Modern Art in New York through March 11, 2013. On March 2, the artist’s first permanently installed beeswax room opened at The Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C.
Laib's life and work in all mediums are profoundly connected to his experiences in India and Southeast Asia which began as a young teenager while traveling with his family. The artist currently lives and works in Germany and India. For his next major artistic endeavor, he has chosen the bare granite hills of Pulimalai (Tiger Mountain) near Madurai in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu as the location for the colossal, sixty-foot-long Brahmanda he is proposing to create. He envisions the sculpture, which would be carved out of the mountainside, remaining connected at the bottom, as a permanent monument, commemorating his deep admiration and respect for the country and its culture and traditions.
This exhibition is our second solo presentation of photographs and drawings by Wolfgang Laib and his first exhibition of color photographs. It is presented in collaboration with Sperone Westwater.
Leslie Tonkonow Artworks + Projects is located on the sixth floor of 535 West 22nd Street, between Tenth and Eleventh Avenues. Gallery hours are 10:00 am to 6:00 pm.