Franz West ‘Where is My Eight?’ takes place across seven of The Hepworth’s eight naturally lit exhibition rooms. The exhibition brings together key pieces from West’s body of work including his ‘Adaptives’, furniture works, large-scale sculptures and individual pieces combined to form new single works. The title for the exhibition plays on this recombination, chosen by West from a 2004 gouache painting he made on top of a magazine cover of a woman putting on a pair of trousers that swamp her after successful weight loss – the ‘W’ dropped from the original title ‘Lost Weight’ becomes ‘Where is My Eight?’.
Interaction, invitation and contemplation form the basis for much of this exhibition. Gallery one ‘Ordinary Language’ is an installation of twelve simple sofa constructions made from iron rods covered in bright batik fabrics alongside two monitors screening ‘Das Bestellte Oval (The Ordered Oval)’. The film features conversations between art world players (Žižek is notably one) alongside sofas dotted sporadically and informally throughout the space. Some face a large window that looks out over the river Calder while others wait nonchalantly, peppered with exhibition catalogues. Calm and serene, the space invites you to stop and sit down - you can choose to listen to the art chit-chat or you can simply rest for a moment.
Another gallery sees West’s brilliant crumbly multi-coloured lumps of papier-mâché poised proud throughout the permanent collection of Hepworth prototypes. Giant plaster forms stand serene, smooth and slick, haptic against West’s gleefully disintegrating forms. It’s a perfect pairing – revealing and celebrating both artists’ materiality.
For Hepworth and West the relationship between object and viewer - the physical experience of a work of art - was crucial. This is explored in West’s ‘Adaptives’ a hilarious series of objects made from plaster. Propped up against a wall alongside a series of demonstration videos, the ‘Adaptives’ are intended to work as extensions of the body that can be picked up and put on like items of clothing. Giant plaster sleeves that extend one’s arms to extra-ordinary proportions can be wielded around as well as great lumpy sticks that look like Neolithic clubs – it’s fun and invigorating.
Across the way is The Calder, The Hepworth’s new contemporary art space housed in a former textile mill. Inside is the UK’s first reinvention of Allan Kaprow’s seminal ‘Environment’ ‘YARD’. The space has been filled with 3,000 used tyres creating a large mound of smelly rubber where visitors are given free reign to explore, clamber over and rearrange in their own recombinations.
‘YARD’ was first staged in 1961 in the Martha Jackson Gallery in New York. With insistence on reinvention not recreation, it is performed here alongside a series of interventions from artists Koo Jeong-A and Rivane Neuenschwander, dance artists Nicola Conibere, Janine Harrington and Robbie Synge, and musicians David Toop and Rie Nakajima.
Robbie Synge, a Siobhan Davies mentorship dance artist, occupied the space for one day, enacting a series of utilitarian movements that blended audience and performer (except for the subtle presence of his workman’s gloves). These were made up of gestures and actions reminiscent of the labour that once took place in the building, a nod to its industrial past – the monotonous moving and stacking of grimy tyres, the clearing of a walkway and the use of simple props - a plank of wood, a piece of rope. Visitors joined in building and rebuilding new towers of tyres left for the next visitor to play with so that it became unclear who was performer and who was visitor, the merging of art and everyday life much as Kaprow wanted.
West cited Kaprow as an influence on his work and how art might be used as a prompt for social interaction. It seems fitting that these two seminal figures should take place side by side in exhibitions that invite such interaction. Kaprow said of his Environments – the link between art and life should be kept as fluid and perhaps indistinct as possible. That The Hepworth champions its own environment - large windows celebrate the view - the natural Yorkshire landscape and the architecture embraces its gritty geology – as if carved straight from a hunk of the Yorkshire landscape, surely embodies this sentiment.