Creating contemporary art with rice, pollen and nature

    Think about what you can do with rice. Well, obviously you can cook and eat it. You can throw it at newlyweds as a celebratory gesture and you can use it as stuffing in beanbag chairs and stuffed animals. But who would have ever thought of using rice artistically to make a statement about the sheer simplicity and beauty of nature?

    This is exactly what German artist Wolfgang Laib uses, along with beeswax, pollen, white marble, milk and other ordinary materials, to explore the spirituality of everyday common objects. The first major American survey of Laib’s work, “”Wolfgang Laib: A Retrospective,”” is currently on view through May 19 at the San Diego Museum of Contemporary Art in La Jolla.

    The 24 sculptures and installments on view at the museum fuse influences from Asian, Indian, Islamic, Tibetan, Egyptian and Mesopotamian cultures to create original works of art that draw on universal signs and natural materials. His love of rice stems from Islamic cemeteries where rice is seen as a literal symbol of nourishment and is used as a symbolic substitute for bones. Beeswax is also a favorite of Laib. He is able to use beeswax and wood to create life-size chambers of “”ships”” that are illuminated by bare lightbulbs hanging from the ceiling.

    Other than these “”ships,”” the exhibit also includes two 12-by-12 beeswax ziggurats on wood that are inspired by the structure of Tibetan monasteries.

    Besides the usage of rice and beeswax, the most intriguing of all installments would have to be the “”Milkstone (1983-87)”” exhibit where a four-by-four thin slab of white marble is coated with three quarts of imported European parmalet milk to give the illusion of a solid object. This piece is so captivating because it presents such a paradox.

    Displayed in the beautiful Krichman Family Gallery, where four straight window panels directly overlook the Pacific Ocean, the whole room epitomizes serenity and simplicity.

    Ironically, the seemingly straightforward piece of artwork is more complicated than it appears. A slight concave depression is made on the surface of the marble to hold the milk. Laib does the initial ritualistic pouring of the milk into the hollow and thereafter throughout the duration of the exhibit, the museum staff takes responsibility of emptying the milk, cleaning the marble and refilling it the next morning. Such intricate measures are taken every single day to ensure the quality of the presentation.

    Whether you are an art buff, this is certainly one exhibit that deserves attention. Laib employs simple designs and materials in his work to show a deep spiritual relationship with nature. His installments emphasize the beauty, purity, tranquillity and simplicity of organic elements as each individual object is drastically different from the next.

    For more information, check out the museum’s Web site at www.mcasandiego.org or call the 24-hour information line at (858) 454-3541.

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