Without Place–Without Time–Without Body by Wolfgang Laib

Without Place–Without Time–Without Body
Nelson-Atkins Museum: Project Space of the Bloch Building
Sept. 26, 2009 – Jan. 17, 2010.

Wolfgang Laib


An installation by the highly respected German artist Wolfgang Laib comes to The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art when Without Place–Without Time–Without Body opens Sept. 26 in the Project Space of the Bloch Building. It closes Jan. 17, 2010.

This installation is comprised of hundreds of mounds of rice laid out in a grid, with five mounds of luminous yellow pollen at its center. Leesa Fanning, Associate Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at the Nelson-Atkins, views the work as a metaphor for transcendence that also acknowledges the presence of the spiritual in contemporary art.

Laib lives and works in seclusion in his native Germany and southern India, which he considers his spiritual home. He has studied philosophy and religion and is drawn to Hindu ritual offerings of flowers, foods and other substances placed on altars, and to milk poured as a form of libation.

Laib’s natural materials of pollen and rice inherently symbolize regeneration and nature’s infinite cycles. He says that pollen is “a detail of … infinity.” Rice is seed and sustenance, and its symbolic, cultural and religious significance is well known. As sculpture, Laib’s organic, living materials represent a field of energy. They convey immediacy and presence.

Laib’s art-making process is ritualistic and intensely focused. For Without Place–Without Time–Without Body, he collected hazelnut pollen. In the gallery, each mound of pollen and rice is carefully distributed by hand. Slight irregularities in the placement of some mounds of rice reveal the process and the artist’s hand at work.

Rice and flowers are ritual offerings in India, and pollen grains are Laib’s flowers, in the abstract. Like offerings placed on altars in India, the process of creating this work is a kind of ceremonial act. In this context, Without Place–Without Time–Without Body transforms the gallery into a secular shrine.

Fanning says that Without Place–Without Time–Without Body “represents a mythical mountain landscape of infinite proportions” and that it is “quiet and still and offers a meditative counterpoint to the difficulties of life, as if it offers healing possibilities.”

In a recent interview with Fanning,* Laib said, “I started to study medicine with all the ideals you have as a doctor. And being disappointed quickly, I did with my art and my life what I wanted to do as a doctor. Many people, especially in the art world, find it is impossible and naïve to believe in beauty in a world dominated by the opposite. But I think beauty is important.” Laib says all his work is “concerned with the search for an entrance or passage to another world.”

Courtesy of the artist and Sean Kelly Gallery. This exhibition is supported by the Campbell-Calvin Fund and Elizabeth C. Bonner Charitable Trust for exhibitions. Midwest Airlines is the official airline sponsor.

Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art