Art to engage the senses

Critic's Choice: Art

January 07, 2001|By Glenn McNatt

The traditional functions of art as magical incantation, as representation of the visible world, or as an exploration of the psyche have been largely displaced by the notion that art exists mainly to nourish and enlarge our consciousness.

This is the avowed goal of the art of Wolfgang Laib (pronounced "libe"), whose works made out of pollen, beeswax, rice and other natural materials are on display through Jan. 22 at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington.

Many of Laib's works evoke the idea of spiritual passage. In the installation "Somewhere Else -- La Chambre des certitudes," for example, Laib invites the viewer to enter a narrow chamber whose walls are lined with fragrant panels of beeswax illuminated by a single dangling light bulb.

Such works are intended to be experienced with all the faculties -- smell, touch, the physical relationship of the body to the environment -- rather than merely "viewed" in the traditional sense.

"Rather than openly critique prevailing issues or values in society," writes curator Olga M. Viso, "Laib prefers to evoke change by reorienting his audience's minds and attitudes. He does so by asking viewers to slow down and appreciate life's quiet beauties, each at his or her own pace."

The Hirshhorn Museum is in Washington, at Independence Avenue at Seventh Street, S.W. Hours are 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Sunday through Saturday. Admission is free. Call 202-357-2700.

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