Franz West David Zwirner / New York

January 22, 2015

“Franz West” is a clean shard of a retrospective, smartly limiting itself to a single decade, the 1990s, of the late Austrian artist’s diverse career.

The iconoclast, who died in 2012, left behind a mess of designed objects, artworks, styles, cross-pollination with his peers, and treasured wares, all arranged here, material affirmation of a lifetime of pursuing the path drawn by his promiscuous inquisitiveness, deadpan humor, and prodding of societal rites and etiquette. A massive constellation, heavy in visual volume — oversized papier-mâché or aluminum forms on iron pedestals [Untitled (10 Sculptures), 1990–1997; Lemurenköpfe, 1992]; large wooden cupboards, rather empty inside [Dortmund und Gmünd (Die Visualisierte Rhythmik), 1993/1999]; deep sofas draped in rich textiles, held up on pencil-thin iron frames (Untitled, 1993) — rests lightly in pristine white rooms, spacious enough to take up the greater part of a city block in Chelsea. Scattered videos playing on small screens feature friends Kasper König, Mike Kelley and Joseph Kosuth, among many others. Invitations to use certain pieces on display — one can sit on Divan, 2003, or “make an ergonomic gesture” with a Paßstück (Adaptive) from 1996, the accompanying Video with Usage Tips handily playing next to it — all impart the warmth and intimacy of a visit to an old friend’s home.

Slipping through the crevices on both sides of the sealed time restraint of the show is a loose series of West’s Passstücke, or Adaptives, which debuted around 1980, and which he continued to mold until the end of his career. The abstract, pale plaster shapes, available for individual interpretation and performance, served as a gentle poke — an oblique, literal question mark inserting itself into relational norms and expectations in social interactions. Absurd, unassuming and wryly in line with the artist’s sense of humor, the tactile Adaptives continue to present themselves with an odd (f)utility.

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