Franz West: Where is my Eight?

[Image: Franz West’s Parrhesia, 2012]


Running until 14 September at The Hepworth Wakefield is Franz West: Where is my Eight? an intriguing show by the Austrian artist who was given an award for lifetime achievement at the Venice Biennale in 2011. West himself co-developed Where is my Eight with Museum Moderner Kunst, Vienna, before his death two years ago.

This is the first key exhibition of West’s work since this time and, occupying seven of the ten gallery spaces in The Hepworth, features some very conceptual interactive pieces of sculpture. West’s artistic approach was centred on the participation and reaction of the viewer, inviting the viewers’ physical manipulation of and interaction with his creations. Believing that the existence and purpose of an artwork was not fulfilled without a viewer response, he saw this interaction and engagement of the viewer, both physical and intellectual, as the crucial process which completed a work of art.

Instead of presenting himself the final authority on the meaning of his art, West sort to create a dialogue with his audience, encouraging open mindedness and promoting the way in which individuals will all have a different response to and interpretation of pieces of art. Through giving his pieces ambiguous titles, he further encouraged people to put their own interpretations onto his work.

He deplored movements such as the Vienna Actionists in the 1960s who had an entirely opposite idea about the creation of art and its contact with the viewer, with a political, autocratic and often violent approach to their work.

Some of West’s pieces at The Hepworth are really impressive in scale. Two stand-out works are Stonehenge, a 2011 abstract cerise columnar structure of Epoxy resin and lacquer with a wonderfully glossy yet textured surface, and Epiphany on Chairs (see below)from the same year using polystyrene, gauze and lacquer which has a somewhat humorous and extra-terrestrial appearance, reminiscent of a pink planet from the set of The Clangers. Such large sculpture is what The Hepworth is so great for, and this exhibition makes real use of its accommodating gallery sizes.



Credit: Epiphany on Chairs, 2011


West’s famous ‘Adaptives’ are displayed to good effect in the show, the concept of these was combination, recombination and adaption; for example incorporating his pieces into a new work of art or transforming an adaptive into an extension of the human body. The tube-shaped adaptives in NYANAC are intended to be picked up by the viewer standing in front of the black and white screen; a monitor shows how people have experimented with them, putting their arms through or placing one on their head. Adaptives with box and film uses four rather scythe-like adaptives of plaster gauze and plastic on metal sticks which can be held, swung or waved around. This area offers ‘privacy’ for gallery-goers in the form of curtained cubicles, allowing the user to experience and engage with the adaptives in their own space.

The installation Ordinary Language, comprised of twelve sofas covered in ethnic print throws and two monitors creates a space for the visitor in which to relax and contemplate while being an artwork itself. Playing on the screens is the film The Ordered Oval by West, Johannes Schlebrügge and Bernhard Riff which features artists discussing art and so sets the perfect scene for the viewer to discuss the art they have seen.  This creates community atmosphere within the gallery and doesn’t just encourage people to talk about the art on show but physically delivers a space for this discussion and human interaction.

Conversations: West and Hepworth is a section within the exhibition which juxtaposes sculptural work from both artists. We can see that despite their differing artistic careers some parallels may be drawn between some works which use similar shapes, materials and colour palates.  Conversations has been cleverly curated to best highlight this relationship and the two artists work harmoniously in the same room.

Helena Roddis

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