Making Beautiful Art... From Beeswax (Transcript) | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

Transcripts

Creating A Permanent Phillips Collection Exhibit Entirely From Beeswax

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:00:08
Welcome back to "Metro Connection." I’m Rebecca Sheir and today we're talking about teamwork. To kick off this part of the show we're going to focus on teamwork of an artistic nature. In just a bit we'll meet a local team of Slam poets and we'll hear what happens when teamwork meets karaoke. Yeah, karaoke. But first, let's head to Northwest D.C., just off Dupont Circle, to the kitchen of the Phillips Collection.

MR. JEREMIAH HOLLAND

00:00:32
We have a relatively large eight-pound hammer now. So we just whack it.

SHEIR

00:00:37
This is Jeremiah Holland and as you're about to hear…

SHEIR

00:00:40
Should I get out of the way?

HOLLAND

00:00:41
No.

SHEIR

00:00:42
…he and his hammer are going to town…

SHEIR

00:00:44
…on a 40-some-pound block…

SHEIR

00:00:49
…of beeswax.

HOLLAND

00:00:50
This wax is from Germany. And it's such a great aroma. It smells of wax and honey.

SHEIR

00:00:56
How long did it take you to adjust to the aroma?

HOLLAND

00:00:57
You don’t really notice it now, after working with it so much, but you miss it when it’s not around. It’s very pleasant, even after you’ve worked in it for quite some time.

SHEIR

00:01:05
And Jeremiah should know. He and three other 20-something local artists have spent nearly a week in this kitchen. Some, like Jeremiah, have been recruited from the Corcoran School of Art, others from the Phillips staff, to help with the museum’s newest installation. It's called the Laib Wax Room, named after Wolfgang Laib, a German artist who specializes in using purely organic materials, like beeswax and pollen.

MS. RHIANNON NEWMAN

00:01:27
I get here about 6:45 in the morning and I turn on the wax double boiler.

SHEIR

00:01:32
Phillips Collection staffer Rhiannon Newman is another member of the assistant team.

NEWMAN

00:01:36
Usually Wolfgang comes in with Bjorn and they start mixing and we keep hammering away and breaking everything up into tiny little hand-size pieces.

SHEIR

00:01:45
Bjorn, by the way, is Bjorn Schmidt, Wolfgang's assistant. And during my visit I get to see him mix the melted wax using what looks like an enormous electric egg whisk.

SHEIR

00:01:57
Jeremiah Holland compares the melted wax to a lumpy golden batter.

SHEIR

00:02:02
I see what you mean about sort of the cake batter, the pancake batter.

HOLLAND

00:02:05
And Bjorn’s so good at it, too. He can make cakes for me any day.

SHEIR

00:02:10
The Laib Wax Room is pretty much exactly what it sounds like, a tiny, intimate chamber with the walls and ceiling coated in layer upon layer of smooth, fragrant, wax.

SHEIR

00:02:20
So this is the first permanent installation since the Rothko Room?

MS. DOROTHY KOSINSKI

00:02:23
Yes.

SHEIR

00:02:23
Dorothy Kosinski is the Phillips Collection director. And as she notes, it's been more than 60 years since the Phillips opened the Rothko Room, which contains four paintings by American artist Mark Rothko.

KOSINSKI

00:02:34
The Rothko Room is something that we are determined to preserve because it was the only room that he anointed. He gave us the clues about how high to hang the works, about the lighting conditions. So this permanent wax chamber, I think it’ll end up being a bookend to Rothko’s very special serene environment.

SHEIR

00:02:58
Because when the Laib Wax Room opens this weekend, she says she expects visitors to find it nothing short of meditative.

KOSINSKI

00:03:05
Wolfgang manages to create like a vessel and then he fills it with the beauty of this natural material, of the beeswax, which has this extraordinarily glowing presence. It has an olfactory presence that’s very seductive. People can visit that chamber and allow themselves to be enveloped within the environment and protected from the chaos of everyday life.

SHEIR

00:03:36
The thing is though, the initial thought of making this serene, meditative room a financial reality wasn’t exactly serene or meditative.

KOSINSKI

00:03:45
Probably after, what a great idea, probably the next statement was, we can’t afford to do that.

SHEIR

00:03:49
So the Phillips Collection teamed up with long-time donors and local galleries to raise funds for the Laib Wax Room. And it raised more than $15,000 through online crowdsourcing.

KOSINSKI

00:03:59
A couple of artists in our community made a gift. And they said, we’d love it if you could make it into a challenge grant. So we worked with IndieGoGo and we matched that money. So we've had help from many, many corners and that reveals how embedded we are in our communities. And it’s all built on meaningful relationships.

SHEIR

00:04:24
Back in the Phillips Collection’s kitchen, the art assistants have definitely been forming meaningful relationships with one another this past week. But another relationship Jeremiah Holland says he’s been forming is with the work of art itself.

HOLLAND

00:04:36
We’ve seen it from the start. And it’s very rewarding knowing that our hands touched the wax that’s going into this room. And, you know, we mixed it and we cleaned the tools and made sure that Bjorn and Wolfgang have everything that they need.

SHEIR

00:04:49
Rhiannon Newman agrees. For her, assisting with this permanent installation is a chance to help make history.

NEWMAN

00:04:56
It’s like really humbling and really different being kind of like a little cog in a great machine and being able to take my kids or grandchildren some day and be like, hey, your mom. Sledgehammer. She did that.

SHEIR

00:05:08
And she did it with the help of an entire community, all of its members coming together to create this aromatic, peaceful space for everyone to enjoy, for years and years to come.

SHEIR

00:05:20
The Laib Wax Room opens this weekend at the Phillips Collection. To see photos of Wolfgang, Bjorn and the art assistants in action, visit our website, metroconnection.org.
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