As one of the most important artists of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, the fundamental aspects of Franz West’s artistic practice were recently explored in “Where is My Eight?”
This major survey exhibition was a joint project between mumok in Vienna and the Museum für Moderne Kunst, Frankfurt, who initiated and developed it directly with the artist before his untimely death. The Hepworth Wakefield was the last stop on its itinerary.
Radically challenging the concept of art, West incorporated the response of the viewer as an integral part of the work of art, which sought dialogue and rejected the artist-as-hero preoccupations of modernism. For example, playfully nestled alongside the elegant, anthropomorphic curves of Barbara Hepworth’s plaster prototypes, West’s Das Geraune (Murmuring) (1988) was veritably buzzing with energized textural surfaces and peep holes for the viewer’s eyes only.
Also on view were his Passstücke (Adaptives) — abstract forms created from the mid-1970s, intended to be played with, held or worn with ever-changing results. Works such as Personale (Solo Exhibition) (1995–97) highlighted the network of elements often utilized by West. In this piece, the artist employed a strategy of recombination, incorporating works by Martin Kippenberger, Jason Rhoades and Raymond Pettibon, among others, as well a 1979 collage from his own oeuvre.
One of the larger galleries displayed furniture pieces including Ordinary Language (1993/1995). In the 1980s West produced furniture out of metal — uncomfortable and hard forms that over time incorporated cushions. In another room, two chairs were poised in front of Epiphanias an Stühlen (2011), encouraging a dialogue with this bulbous pink mound reminiscent of a land mine, a virus or the satellite Sputnik.
West was fascinated by the field of psychology (he read Freud and Lacan in particular). The nature of language and the conditions under which truth is conveyed was also of interest (Wittgenstein was another of West’s favorites). This is evident even in the exhibition’s title, chosen by the artist shortly before his death and derived from a 2004 gouache, whose title, Lost Eight,references a magazine image of a woman holding a pair of oversized jeans who has “lost weight.” Dropping the w and turning this into a question, the linguistic free associations are numerous. West encouraged different ways of experiencing the world, an endless multitude of options becoming playfully possible.