Sunday, September 29, 2013

The Laib Wax Room

There is a little room lined with beeswax at the Phillips collection in Washington, D.C.  Designed and installed by the German artist Wolfgang Laib, you can read about it here.
To experience this art form, you remove all your loose gear, like handbags or big cameras so as not to scratch the walls and then you leave them right outside the opening where they are guarded by a serious lady with a mysterious accent. Then you stand inside the quiet room and inhale the smell of beeswax, which is actually nice. The color of beeswax is lovely, too, similar to amber.

I think you are supposed to notice the feelings you have and whether they concern your union with nature. In a roundabout way, this did happen to me. I started to worry about all the stuff I had to remove and put outside the door:  my handbag, with my wallet and my mobile phone, not to mention everything else I need. Could I trust the guard to keep an eye on it? What if I got an important text while I was standing there and couldn't get to my phone?

Thoughts like these made me realize how attached I am to my belongings. Was that the goal of this exhibit, our neurotic attachment to technology and our increasing alienation from the natural world? I don't know, but being in the room made me consider the fact that I am really attached to my wallet and my mobile phone, at the expense of having a quiet moment thinking about claustrophobia, the inside of a candle, how it would feel to be one of those fossilized insects that is suspended in amber, whether the amber jewelry that professes to be amber is actually yellowish plastic from China, the mean behavior of Queen bees, the worrying decrease of the world's honeybee population, whether Germany is plagued by Africanized Killer Bees of the sort that are terrorizing parts of Arizona, and if people who are deathly allergic to bees would also react badly to being near several pounds of beeswax.

I like some contemporary, interactive art. It frequently stimulates the mind and draws people into museums who might otherwise not go in. It keeps the mind fresh and curious and we are challenged to discover new paradigms and re-think some cherished beliefs. Many of the visuals/sounds/smells/experiences are interesting and sometimes very beautiful and memorable.

I think artists should be encouraged to express themselves any way they like - well, I guess there are some limits to this, but generally speaking - it's just that I also have a lot of concerns about how art is marketed and valued. Art in general seems extraordinarily susceptible to corrupt marketing practices and unregulated Ponzi-type scenarios. I have no idea how much this wax room is worth or who paid for it and I have no idea as to how much it should be worth. How is something like this valued? Does supply, demand and resale factors guide valuation? How does the art market guide valuation, exactly? Does talent and skill matter at all or is novelty the deciding factor?

And what about hype and marketing? Is it really all dependent upon... buzz? (Sorry, couldn't resist.)

Meanwhile, I had a dream that night involving wax and cellular phones, which may make its way into a painting. If  I paint my painting and it turns out well (keep your fingers crossed for me) then the visit to this little room was to me, at least, worth the price of the museum admission. You just never know where inspiration will land on you.

1 comment:

Linda Tracey Brandon said...

Meanwhile, here's a good news update: scientists may have found a cure for mass bee deaths.