Franz West: Where Is My Eight’
MMK Museum für Moderne Kunst, Domstraße 10, 60311, Frankfurt am Main, Germany
29 June’ 13 October
From the Press Release
The MMK is paying tribute to one of Austria’s most famous contemporary artists - Franz West (1947-2012) - by staging a major survey of his oeuvre. Carried out in cooperation with the mumok Museum moderner Kunst Stiftung Ludwig in Vienna, the presentation is the first since West’s death to feature a large number of his sculptures, collages and large-scale room installations. The artist initiated the exhibition himself and was enthusiastically involved in its development, ‘Franz West had close ties to Frankfurt for many years, and we are accordingly very pleased about the fact that - following its first presentation in Vienna - this comprehensive exhibition will be featured in the second city of significance for this artist’s oeuvre’, comments MMK director Susanne Gaensheimer. It was in Frankfurt am Main that, in 1979, Franz West had his first exhibition outside Austria, staged by artist and gallery owner Jürgen Wegner in his Gallery ‘forme’. A further important show followed in the late 1980s at the Portikus, and from 1992 to 1993 West held a professorship at the Frankfurt Städelschule. The MMK has in its collection a number of outstanding works by Franz West. Pieces dating from his Frankfurt period - some executed in cooperation with local artists - are among the highlights of our exhibition.
Franz West’s oeuvre is based on a fundamental examination of the relationship between the artwork and its recipient as well as the role of the artist at the end of the twentieth century. As a player on the international art stage he developed a highly independent and innovative stance on these matters. Owing to its participatory nature, his art contrasts with traditional concepts of the artwork. The recipient is no longer limited to the role of the beholder but becomes part of the work: Some of West’s so-called ‘adaptives’ and furniture can be used, touched and occupied as a sitting surface. For reasons of conservation, however, many of the works originally intended for use may no longer be touched by exhibition visitors today. ‘New forms for handling his works have to be developed - forms which, after the death of Franz West, do justice to his participatory concept of the artwork while at the same time protecting the actual material’, explains exhibition curator Klaus Görner.
West began his artistic career as an autodidact in 1970s Vienna. He not only undertook in-depth studies of Sigmund Freund’s theories of psychoanalysis and Ludwig Wittgenstein’s linguistic philosophy, but also acquainted himself with the artistic avant-garde of his own time. In the Vienna of the seventies, the art scene was dominated by the after-effects of Viennese Actionism and its excessive use of the body with the aim of breaking taboos in a shocking manner. Deliberately rejecting this ‘sensation art’ (West), he embarked on his artistic oeuvre with drawings, gouaches and objects characterised by an emphatic lack of pathos and spiced with a good pinch of humour. At the same time, the artistic issues he pursued derived from philosophical reflections touching on epistemological themes: How do I experience the world and what can be said about it’ - and ultimately: What role does art play, and what, indeed, is art’
With his highly individual approach, Franz West broke through the traditional distinction between work, artist and viewer and dissolved the monumental idealisation of artistic works. ‘The constant questioning of his own role, the continual recombination of his own works, and self-mockery are among his unmistakable trademarks’, says Görner. Franz West’s so-called ‘adaptives’ constitute a key element of his sculptural work. They were formed from plaster and polyester and have an inner - often invisible - core which can be a random object. The three-dimensional, usually neutral white shapes are often vaguely reminiscent of commonplace objects, which can be worn on the body in everyday life, for example articles of clothing, jewellery or handbags, while others are completely abstract. At the artist’s request, the visitors are permitted to handle the ‘adaptives’ - such as Ion (2010), a work now on view at the MMK - and ‘adapt’ them to their own bodies. According to West’s conception, subconscious conflicts and annoyances are thus conveyed by the ‘adaptives’. ‘It is actually supposed to be a depiction of neuroses. I maintain that this is how it would look if you could see neuroses’, Franz West once remarked.
The visitors are greeted in the central hall of the MMK by a work, which likewise invites participation: the six-metre-high, light blue, serpentine sculpture Untitled (2012), one of the artist’s last works. Not completed until after his death, it can be occupied by the exhibition visitors as a sitting surface. The large sculpture is a variation on a loop form inspired by a ‘scribble’ from Ludwig Wittgenstein’s ‘Lectures on Aesthetics’ which the philosopher himself referred to as a ‘meaningless loop’.
In the next room we encounter a work - Genealogy of the Untouchable - which testifies to the fact that the artist never clung dogmatically to concepts - not even his own, such as that of participation. From 1997 onwards, he presented five of his earlier ‘adaptives’ in a large, glazed, display-case-like box. With this new presentation form, he turned works actually intended for use into ‘untouchable’ objects. ‘Adaptives’ also make up part of a Combi Wall, which - in addition to works on paper - shows photos of people interacting with the ‘adaptives’. Supplemented with various pieces of furniture, these walls, for example Kassel-Style Spare Ribs (1996) or Dreamy (1997), become expansive, space-consuming works.
The Wegener Rooms 2/6’5/6 consitute yet another key display in the show. During preparations for the exhibition at the Portikus, Franz West assembled several works belonging to Jürgen Wegner in the (first) Wegener Room. In the autumn of the same year, he then executed the Wegener Rooms 2/6’5/6 as a variation and expansion on the first combination idea. The title makes reference to both the Frankfurt gallery owner Jürgen Wegner and the arctic explorer and geologist Alfred Wegener, who first introduced his theory of continental drift at a conference at the Senckenberg Museum in Frankfurt in 1912. For the future MMK restaurant, Franz West collaborated with Andreas Reiter Raabe to design the work Fleur Mal (2012) consisting of thirteen ceiling lamps. The lamps were purchased for the MMK last autumn with the help of the Large Company at Table. Each of the thirteen sculptures is a ‘hybrid’ of an ‘adaptive’ and a lamp and equipped with LED technology capable of creating various light effects. Like the large standing lamps or the sitting and reclining furniture in the exhibition, these ceiling lamps are both functional objects and depictions of the same. The exhibition is supplemented by works of artists from the MMK Collection who worked together with Franz West such as Douglas Gordon, Herbert Brandl and Heimo Zobernig or who were of particular relevance for his work such as Franz Erhard Walther.
The exhibition title ‘Where is my Eight’ - chosen by the artist himself - is a classic example of his associative way of working. The point of departure was a gouache of 2004 depicting a woman putting on a pair of trousers, which, following a successful diet, is much too big for her. By omitting the ‘W’, the artist transformed the title Lost Weight into Lost Eight, finally arriving at “Where is my eight’’ West leaves the question unanswered, thus preparing the ground for various new associations.