2,500 Pounds Of Rice, Arranged In 30,000 Piles: It's Called Art, Jerk

German artist Wolfgang Laib creates a site-specific installation in Chicago’s Carson, Pirie, Scott Building.

There’s a social component to a lot of food art, whether Jennifer Rubell’s room-sized cell padded with 1,800 cones of pink cotton candy or Marina Abramovic’s recent The Survival MoCA Dinner, which included nudes lying beneath skeletons as food was served by pallbearers. But German artist Wolfgang Laib is aiming for something quieter and more introspective with his show Unlimited Ocean, at the Art Institute of Chicago’s Sullivan Galleries in the iconic Carson, Pirie, Scott Building.

During his 10-day residence, Laib created one of his largest works using more than 2,500 pounds of food with the help of 13 assistants who arranged more than 30,000 tiny piles of rice and pollen lined in rows across the room. Laib collects the pollen by himself during the spring and early summer months every year from the small village near his home and studio. "It’s very concentrated," Laib said during a talk at the Art Institute in October. "It’s not work, but something that’s totally different from what you expect to achieve in a day or a month."

Laib is known for creating works out of materials like beeswax and fire, and his most well-known pieces, his Milkstones, are large square slabs of marble with hollowed-out indentions filled with milk. These basic items are actual things from life, he says, the difference between a blue sky and a blue painting. "Food is not only for the physical part of the body but much more. People ask me how can you justify using a ton of rice here when people are starving but I feel like using it this way is much more useful than even food." Like an offering to the gods.

Unlimited Ocean has been extended to January 28. More information here.

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  • Michael

    for the self-riteous artists who don't like Laib's work - sell the laptops you used to write your comments and go feed the hungry, clothe the naked, etc... but don't criticize art simply because of the materials he uses. Starvation is not about scarcity, but about distribution. India, for instance, has an enormous 40 million malnurished children - yet produces a surplus of food.

    Again, sell your laptops, sell whatever you need to to release yourself from such cynicm, and go to one of Laib's exhibitions!  and take off your damn shoes!

  • Nurye Namat

    People who has not experienced affluence won't understand this art; people who has never starved won't understand the hunger. It should be called art in front of the right audience.

  • Philomen

    Where is the ART?  It says nothing. 
    This is not only  about wasting a vital resource. Its just one of those empty things that some people try to pass as art and then others join in trying to make some sense out of it.  

  • aaron

    I see your point Piya. Actually after making that point I guess I'll change my stance on this being a waste. You point out that any piece of art can be deemed wasteful since it is a waste of resources, but I think that comes from the assumption that art is an inherently wasteful activity. Personally, I don't think art is a waste, and often has some value, even though it may not be as obvious or essential to our survival like something such as food or shelter. So I guess my new position here is that this may not really be a waste of rice, nor is this 'bad' art. My new question though is what is this art trying to say?

  • Piya Sereevinyayut

    Is the outrage here due to its being bad art, or to the artist's choice of material?  It can be assumed that any piece of art requires money to make a purchase of materials, and since money is fungible, any piece of art can be value in a unit of "tonne of rice". So any piece of art can be deemed wasteful in the presence of hunger and starvation around the world (of course to the various degrees, depending on the financial cost of the the materials). 

  • aaron

    I'm not at all offended by this being called art. That discussion is long gone, and has really become a question of what your artistic values are. Aside from that, I think this does bring up a really good point that has been stated in the comments below. The fact that the artist has done this when there are so many starving children in the world really makes a statement about our priorities - as an art world and as a larger society. The fact that we actually allow all this waste to occur with virtually no outrage from the community is astounding.

  • puppiepoppy

    That's crap art...if you called that art. From where i live here in Beijing, this is like a million miles apart from Ai WeiWei's porcelain sunflower seed, where there's a social message in there.


  • frustrated

    I too am glad to see most of the comments are against this.  As an artist myself, some of the concepts I see people making for installation and performance art these days are just ridiculous.  How is this actually art?  If you gave a child all that rice and a few days, they could easily do this, and you would call it an organized mess, not art.  You would realize that your child has the mental capacity to stack things in rows- wow, what an achievement.  What is the artist's message here?  He should have 'installed' this 'art' in a country where drought and scarce food resources are causing large populations to die of starvation and malnutrition.  At least then it could have some positive impact in the world, after all, isn't the true purpose of art to affect and change society?  Now its just wasted food taking up space in a giant building that could also be put to better use...

  • Stephen

    #NoKidHungry. Until we no longer need to use that hash tag to ensure children are being fed, then I think he might want to reconsider his edible sandbox "artwork."

  • James Rodrigo

    Happy to hear the majority of comments are against this. When there have been many natural disasters this year with the cost of grain increasing  added to the fact that charities are having difficulty helping, either because of access, quality of natural resources and civil conflict, someone decides to waste, combined with channels of promotion for his work, a commodity that is life prolonging.

  • Dhaval Katira

    What a waste of food when people are dying of hunger in Asia and Africa

  • David Henao

    German? how many hungry people are out there? what a waste of food in the name of "art".