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Installing Wolfgang Laib’s “Pollen from Hazelnut”

The artist Wolfgang Laib (German, b. 1950) installed Pollen from Hazelnut at the Museum in 2004. Over the course of three days, Laib methodically sifted the pollen he had laboriously collected in his native Germany onto a specially prepared floor, which had been painted grey. His implements included a sifter fitted with a fine mesh fabric and a metal spoon that he tapped against the sifter, allowing a whisper of pollen to float down to the surface of the floor. The resulting rectangle of blazing yellow pollen created a powerful optical impression against the grey of the floor—part completed art object and part physical record of the performance of the installation itself. 

A Hirshhorn conservator, who would have to replicate the work in the future, witnessed the artist’s creative process. Since then, Pollen from Hazelnut has been installed four times by two different conservators. Photo documentation, notes, and diagrams help to ensure accuracy for future conservators who do not have the benefit of direct instruction from the artist. They must strive to make it look as much like the original as possible, despite the inevitable differences that arise from their own particular physical cadences and movements. The piece has its own idiosyncrasies as well. For example, the pollen must be applied gesturally at the edges and corners to creates a subtle, organic flourish so the work does not appear mechanical or sterile. In this way, the museum seeks to retain and replicate the essential “sense” of the piece.   

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