This first posthumous retrospective of Franz West will attempt to offer a comprehensive overview of the artist’s work. West is best known for his unconventional approach to the creation of objects, sculptures and installations as well as for the interactive nature of his best pieces and this exhibition will attempt to showcase the various strands of the Austrian artist’s oeuvre.
Tate Modern have assembled over 200 pieces for the new show with objects, sculpture, installations and furniture all included in the collection.
West is in many ways an atypical artist. Born in 1947 to a coal dealer father and a dentist mother the youngster showed little desire to study art as a teenager and it was not until he was in his late twenties that he began to study at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna. Indeed, for a long time West studied civil engineering and it was only after a long journey around Europe and the Middle East in his mid-20s that the would be engineer decided to commit his future to art.
At the Academy West came under the tutelage of Bruno Gironcoli, the painter and sculptor, whose large scale sculptures had made him an influential figure in the Vienna art world.
West’s earliest attempts at art seem to have been a reaction to the Viennese Actionism movement which had gained notoriety some thirty years earlier by using shock tactics to challenge the comfortable notions of the Austrian middle classes. The Actionists rejected the commodification of art and instead used their own bodies in radical and controversial ways to express themselves.
West was attracted to the group’s ability to shock but nonetheless decided that he would challenge the art world from within. The young Austrian’s first works consisted mainly of paintings and collages, but he is best remembered for his “touchables” – art works that were designed to be held, examined and manipulated by the viewer. These objects challenged the notion of art as something remote and precious. It also brought into question the role of the museum or gallery in the dessimination of art. In West’s conception the viewer was as much part of the process of art as the creator with no barrier separating the two.
Chief amongst this series of touchables was what West termed his “adaptatives”. These flexible sculptures were made of papier-mâché and cardboard and were not only designed to be held and adapted by the viewer but, in West’s opinion, only become art when they were adapted by the viewer. West reiterated the key role of the viewer in the formation of this art by placing small mirrors around his exhibition spaces so that visitors could see themselves interacting with the pieces.
Thus with the adaptatives West sought to challenge the perceived notions of the art world, albeit in a more subtle way than the Actionists. With his new creations, West was signalling that he was as willing to challenge the perceived order of things as anyone else. Indeed, one of West’s favourite sayings was that it didn’t matter what the art looked like, the important thing was how it was used.
Franz West at Tate Modern will open on the 20th of February 2019 and finish on the 2nd of June 2019.
If you would like to know more about the exhibition, please read the Franz West at Tate Modern article on the gallery’s website.
If you would like more ideas for art in London, please see City Countdown’s guide to exhibitions in London.