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Seminal works from the 1990s by Austrian sculptural artist Franz West (1947–2012) are currently on view at David Zwirner gallery in New York. On November 7, Whitewall attended a walkthrough of the exhibit led by Zwirner to hear about the significance this decade played on West’s creations. “The show features works from the 90s for two reasons: the first is that was the decade we had the privilege of first presenting his work, and the second is that was the decade in which most of the ideas that Franz developed really played out and came to fruition. We made an attempt to bring all these different ideas to this exhibition,” said Zwirner.
As we learned from the gallerist, the show not only catalogs an important time-period for the artist, but a pivotal time in Zwirner’s own career. He opened his gallery in 1993 with an exhibition of West’s work.
The last room of the gallery displays white aluminum sculptures originally created for the Austrian pavilion at the 44th Venice Biennale in 1990, as well as West’s large-scale Lemure Heads, which were first shown at Documenta 9 in 1992. After seeing West’s works at Documenta, Zwirner traveled to Vienna to request to show his work for the gallery’s inaugural show. Their meeting was serendipitous in a way–due to a recession in the art market, two of the galleries representing West had just closed making it the perfect time to begin working with Zwirner. The artist had four subsequent shows with the gallery throughout the decade.
The sculptures created for the Venice Biennale invite viewers to physically interact with them. Zwirner described this series “Paßstücke”(Adaptives) as “signature work of West that plays with the relation of the volume of art with everyday life.” The interactive pieces set West apart from his contemporaries. As Zwirner explained, “It completely changes your relationship with a work—you become a formal element.”
In the 90s, the artist expanded on his signature style of combining high and low reference points with everyday materials to redefine the social experience of art by adding energetic color to his paper mache sculptures and including furniture and art by other artists to his installations. Examples of this in the current show are two sculptures set atop pedestals that double as bookshelves. West decided that two bookshelves were not enough to fill a library, so he created two new works, and dubbed the series “Two and Two.” One could describe the pedestals as functional art. “The subversion and use of furniture together with sculpture is self-evident. It was West’s attempt to narrow the field of the aesthetics of art and objects of everyday life,” said Zwirner.
The books that fill the shelves are part of Zwirner’s personal library, largely gifted by West. Accrued over a period of 8-10 years, the books were sent to Zwirner with annotations or notes outlining key chapters that the artist found especially important.
West began collecting artworks made by his colleagues in the 90s and arranged them into new works of art. “He looked at the art world as an entire system of creating work,” said Zwirner. “Nothing in this arrangement is his actual work, he is merely showing what is possible in the arts,” he said, referring to an installation in corner of the gallery. West not only included works by artists such as Kiki Smith and Jason Rhoades, but also an impromptu duct-tape sculpture made by his art handler at the time.
Zwirner explained that the continual appeal of West’s sculptures is due to hi “nonchalant approach to shapes and his sure-footedness as a colorist.” West’s dynamic work challenges traditional approaches to sculptural designs, functions, and displays, and continues to inspire artists.
Franz West will be on view at the David Zwirner in New York through December 13.