Review of Franz West: Where Is My Eight? The Hepworth Wakefield

Austrian artist Franz West (1947 – 2012) was a pioneer in viewer participation. He achieved worldwide fame with his furniture and sculpture for exterior and interior spaces, and his Passstucke (Adaptives). The Hepworth Wakefield currently hosts a loosely chronological course of his work, distinct for an impression of charisma born of modesty. The impression of modesty comes from light-hearted good humour in the general invitation to visitors to participate and seek dialogue with the work. The charisma that crowns this exhibition emanates from the scale of the works, and the knowledge that their conceit was grounded in involved philosophical consideration.

On entering The Hepworth the visitor is greeted by the large-scale, lacquered aluminium Sitzwurst (2000). It is “wurst”- or sausage-shaped, and is striking in fluorescent pink. On close inspection the horizontal, pink-lacquered aluminium has been roughly soldered together. In being the size of a large bench, the temptation is to sit on it. Highly reminiscent of one of those inflatable carriages found being towed by speedboats in holiday resorts, the light-heartedness is diverting and refreshing. The shocking pink reinforces this impression.

Parrhesia (Freedom of Speech) (2012) is a collection of seven sculptures mounted on wooden pedestals. Of indeterminate and somewhat amorphous shape, these mottled and multicoloured amalgamations of papier-mache, polystyrene, carbon and acrylic lacquer form a daunting prospect collectively. The indeterminate shape of each of the seven sculptures has in common a suggestion or hint at being head-like. This nod to the archetypal oppresses somewhat, only to be relieved by the cheerful colouring.

Contrasting in style is NCYCNAC (2008). This piece is formed of two large-scale interlocking screens, which viewed from above would appear to form the letter “X”: the work is therefore freestanding. The two-dimensional aspect to be found in the design on the cardboard screens, sees epoxy resin and paint applied to form regular geometric patterns interspersed with repeated photographs of people. The repeated, and reproduced photographs usually portray the isolated heads of individuals. Humour can be found here, because of the light-hearted use of repetition.

Equally amusing, and found in the same gallery space, is Epiphanie an Stuhlen (Epiphany on Chairs). A very light pink colouring lightens the mood of a large-scale sphere with protrusions, reminiscent of the Sputnik, suspended from above. Contrived to appear somewhat roughly constructed, and therefore lightening the overall impression further, the hanging object is fleshed out with imperfect papier-mache on its supporting frame. Below the “epiphany” are two chairs, presumably for the visitors to participate in its realisation.

In different sections of the exhibition, installations, films and paintings by West form the context in which the visitors participate by sitting on chairs within the atmosphere they create. His work therefore offers an infinity of possibilities for experiencing the world. Each subjective perspective, as highlighted by the primary focus being on participation, is presented with an ever-changing multitude of attitudes, depending on atmosphere, audience and context. In doing this, West comments on the nature of post-modernism and gives a piquant flavour of what it actually is as an explicit notion.

Franz West: Where Is My Eight? continues at The Hepworth Wakefield until 14 September.

Daniel Potts

1. Franz West, ‘NYCNAC’, 2008. Photo: Lukas Schaller. Courtesy Franz West Privatstiftung, Vienna.