We at Hyperallergic pride ourselves as the best possible source for all allergy-related matters in the art world, so you could imagine that we became very concerned when we heard Wolfgang Laib’s “Pollen from Hazelnut” installation will be coming to the atrium of the Museum of Modern Art. We reached out to the museum for clarification about the installation and received this response:
The MoMA presentation of Wolfgang Laib’s “Pollen from Hazelnut” follows a long history of the artist’s work with natural materials. The artist has created pollen fields dozens of times over 36 years, in high profile, highly trafficked museums and institutions around the world, for as long as one year, with no known incidents. For the MoMA installation, the artist is incorporating the same materials in the same manner.
While that is a very reassuring response, the allergic individual that I am can’t help but feel some anxiety at being confronted with a large patch of hazelnut pollen. I remember turning a corner at the Hirshhorn Museum a few years ago and seeing a version of Laib’s “Pollen from Hazelnut” on the floor. I am happy to report that I didn’t experience a reaction, but like anyone who has severe allergies I walked far away from the work to admire the yellow glow from afar. That memorably anxious experience in Washington, DC, is one of the reasons we placed Laib’s work on our “8 Deadly Works of Art” list back in 2010.
Allergy to hazelnut is more common in Europe than in the United States. Hazelnut pollen is a common cause of seasonal hay fever, and it appears that a person with hazelnut pollen allergy is at risk for food allergy to the tree nut itself. Hazelnut is also related to birch pollen, and therefore people with birch pollen allergy may experience oral allergy symptoms with eating hazelnuts. People with hazelnut allergy may also be allergic to coconut, cashews, peanuts, and soybean given the similarity between the allergens in these foods.
Did I mention I was really really allergic to birch?
I usually like to joke that I never became a food critic because a nut allergy would’ve proven difficult to overcome when reviewing a restaurant known for a certain nut-infused dish or nutty dessert, but I haven’t had much of a problem in the art world, not yet, anyway.
While I’m not scared to visit MoMA during this large installation, I think it’s safe to say that there is little or no chance that I will be lingerong anywhere near the Donald B. and Catherine C. Marron Atrium while Laib’s glowing yellow field of pollen is installed.
Wolfgang Laib’s ”Pollen from Hazelnut” will be installed on the second floor of the Museum of Modern Art’s (11 West 53rd Street, Midtown, Manhattan) Donald B. and Catherine C. Marron Atrium from January 23–March 11, 2013.