LONDON – London’s Tate Modern Gallery has been transformed into a Franz West playground populated with his playful candy-colored sculptures as part of a major retrospective dedicated to the late Austrian visual artist which previewed on Tuesday.
West (1947-2012), one of the most relevant artists of the second half of the 20th century, is the focus of Tate Modern’s latest exhibition, which features over 200 artworks curated chronologically across 10 spaces, giving viewers a unique opportunity to delve into the artist’s creative process.
The exhibition travels beyond the gallery walls with several gigantic sculptures set up outside, one of which is “Rose/Drama” (2001), which depicts a bubblegum-pink rendition of an intestine perched on the bank of the Thames.
“It is titled ‘Drama’ because it is an intestine without an orifice, and that really would be a drama,” Mark Godfrey, the show’s curator, joked at the press preview.
West was born and bred in Vienna surrounded by majestic sculptures of emperors, something he used later in life when designing tongue-in-cheek absurd sculptures in kitsch colors, Godfrey added.
Frances Morris, Tate Modern’s director, highlighted that a unique quality of the exhibition, which is often interactive, is that it “breaks with the division between art and life, and between public and gallery spaces.”
This transgressive quality was evident throughout West’s body of work, and later influenced many other artists who recurrently blur the boundaries between the artwork and the viewer, institutionalized spaces and public ones.
The retrospective launches with some of West’s early illustrations and paintings using cardboard and orange envelopes as canvasses.
In these early works, West poked fun at what he called an obsession with applying Freudian theories in order to grapple with human sexuality.
Another space exhibits his “Passstücke” sculptures (loosely translated as “adaptive pieces”), which he created in the 1970s out of everyday objects such as brushes, pieces of string and radios with the idea the artworks would be handled by audiences, a nod to his enduring punk aesthetic.
Godfrey, who presented West’s work in a comic way, picked up one of the noose-like sculptures and told the press that as punters interact with the sculptures it may reveal “their neuroses,” the curator said while pretending to hang himself with the abstract object.
In radical contrast to these pieces, West later created a series of “legitimate sculptures” which cannot be touched and are placed on plinths that, for this exhibition, were made by his good friend and fellow artist, Sarah Lucas from England.
During the 1980s, the sculptor started using furniture with layers of papier-mache and aluminum, as is the case of “Eo Ipso” [On Its Own Account] (1987), a series of peculiar iron chairs that West made out of his mother’s old washing machine and then painted a shade of mint green.
West envisaged the sculpture in a public setting, where it was exhibited in various locations, again dissolving the barriers between art and spectator with the production of a piece that ultimately aimed to be utilitarian by offering passing pedestrians a respite.
As the artist said himself, “a chair is a mundane ‘passstück.’”
A good example of West’s broad “philosophical and aesthetic interests,” Godfrey continued, was the fact that his artworks often featured cryptic fragments of text written by friends, such as with the three-part papier-mache “Redundanz” (1986) sculpture.
Perhaps one of the most curious spaces is one designed by West himself that combines a range of artworks by friends, many using collage, and which can be admired from the coziness of blanket-covered sofas, gearing punters up for the final West experience.
The exhibition ends in an intimate room that aims to bring to life the artist’s spirit.
Replete with West’s favorite philosophy books and novels for punters to delve into and with a bunch of comfortable sofas and armchairs, the space encourages viewers to stop and let the kooky world of West settle.