Sperone Westwater is pleased to announce Where the Land and Water End, Wolfgang Laib’s ninth solo exhibition with the gallery. Including sculpture, works on paper, and a wall drawing, the exhibition showcases Laib’s ongoing interest in symbolic material and form, reflected in the continuity of themes across media. The exhibition’s title evokes a pilgrimage site Laib visited in Myanmar, a country where he first exhibited last year, which can be reached by foot only during low tide. Laib describes this as “a place beyond land and water” and the works in the exhibition suggest a boundless horizon and a space suspended between earth, sea, and sky. The exhibition coincides with Laib’s major solo exhibition at the Museo d’arte della Svizzera italiana (MASI), Lugano.
As Marco Franciolli observes, Laib works “without presuming to attach new value to the materials. Rather, he seeks to act as a go-between who, through his work, makes visible the intrinsic beauty of every material.” In the main gallery, six ovoid sculptures carved from black Indian granite exemplify Laib’s longstanding preference for elemental form. Laib has been spending time in south India since his youth, and has maintained a studio there for much of the past decade. The egg shape is universal in its suggestion of beginnings, and for Laib personally these works commemorate a beginning of another kind. While still in medical school, Laib produced his first mature work, an egg-shaped sculpture carved from a local boulder, which he called “Brahmanda” (referring to the seed of the universe). Faced with a dilemma between completing his studies and pursuing a career as an artist, Laib chose to do both. These seemingly delicately-balanced sculptures, with their jet-black surfaces, mark a harmonic opposition between materialist and spiritual. This is the central concern of Laib’s work.
A new series of drawings was influenced by a ritual Laib witnessed Shinto priests perform at the Meiji Shrine in Tokyo when he received the Praemium Imperiale, Japan’s highest honor in the arts, in 2015. As Laib recalls, “The priests were all in white in the courtyard of the temple with burning fires just at dusk with the moon in a dark blue sky.” These white-on-white oil pastel drawings of endless waves are unframed and unglazed to preserve their immediate sensory qualities. Some also include short Buddhist, Hindu, and Taoist texts which have profoundly affected the artist, making clear his concern with immanence, permanence, and the infinite. Installed side by side to form an uninterrupted line, these drawings take the form of a frieze. On the gallery’s second floor, a selection of drawings from the past four decades contextualizes the new series.
In the east gallery, Laib has executed a large drawing directly on the wall—his first in the United States—its imagery floating on the cusp of visibility. Together, the works make the viewer acutely conscious of the space and their interrelationships within it. Laib comments, “I think this work and installation is about timelessness—Zeitlosigkeit—and universality, about our existence, what our body and soul is about, what the beginning of our life is and what the end of our life is. I see myself how deeply this work is connected to trying to become a doctor…I did with my artwork what I could not do as a doctor in this scientific world.”
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.