A movable feast: Franz West – Where is my Eight? at The Hepworth Wakefield

By Mark Sheerin | 27 June 2014

Exhibition review: Franz West – Where is my Eight?, The Hepworth Wakefield, Wakefield, until September 14 2014

Click on the picture to launch the gallery

If the author was declared dead in the late 60s, Franz West demonstrates in a conclusive fashion that the art masterpiece is equally defunct. And, while you really can handle some of his artwork, you cannot in a broader sense get a handle on it. West’s output is a movable feast.

This aspect of the late Viennese artist’s work is brought to the fore in a show he was closely involved with before his death. The Hepworth goes large on his combination pieces, nebulous installations in which a number of sculptures appear along with West-designed furniture and, in a generous surprise move, work by other artists.

A case in point is Kasseler Rippchen. It looks like an abject furniture showroom with a challenging taste in art.

You struggle to isolate any of the elements. Listing them (three white chairs, a coffee table, a dozen pieces on the wall, a sculpture on a plinth and a mad assemblage of wooden chest and buckets) tells you little more. And how seriously can we take a work whose title translates as pork chops?

West undercuts his own importance at every turn, yet his influence cannot be denied. Combination pieces are just one of his innovations.

His other artworld trademarks are the passstucke or ‘adaptive’ pieces which you can indeed pick up, play with, pose with and gingerly put back. Only by doing this do you realise what a taboo there is in touching art.

Attention should also be paid to the black and white photos which show the West’s associates acting out witty scenarios with an array of the baffling white plaster forms. These are adaptives in the wild, democratic and of negligible market value.

For as long as he was with us, West was able to repair his work if needs be. Now the remaining works, to be handled with care, must confound collectors.

But in the final gallery is a large ‘seating’ sculpture inspired by Wittgenstein’s concept of the senseless loop. Order is restored here and the flat end of the twisted pink knot of lacquered aluminium is out of bounds to visitor’s behinds. And so for good reasons, the full Franz West experience is already slipping away from us and into the history books.

Elsewhere, however, you can rest your weary legs but not your preconceptions. Ordinary Language is a 1995 installation consisting of twelve batik covered sofas. And, in classic combinatorial style, this has been staged with two monitors showing West’s 1992/3 film The Ordered Oval.

Plus, on the wall, you’ll notice Personale 1995/7, a show within a show which includes works by Martin Kippenberger, Jean Marc Bustamente, and Raymond Pettibon.

It creates a strange gallery environment: sitting on the art, listening to the art, catching sight of it in your peripheral  vision. West has thought of everything. This is a show which will immerse you and involve you.

In one case, (Parrhesia 2012) a roomful of plaster heads appear, by a miracle of artistic suggestion, to speak out loud. It’s hard to dismiss this as anything less than a ‘masterpiece’, but the real value of West’s career lies in his approach rather than his final product.

  • Open 10am-5pm (closed Monday). Admission free.

What do you think? Leave a comment below.

Pics: Gabriel Szabo / Guzelian / legal successors of Franz West; Atelier Franz West; Lukas Schaller. Courtesy Franz West Privatstiftung, Vienna; Mike Bruce, London Courtesy Franz West Privatstiftung, Vienna; Stefan Altenburger Photography Zürich. Hauser & Wirth Collection, Switzerland; Friedl Kubelka, Archiv Franz West / legal successors of Franz West (Vienna/Austria); Private collection

Watch a video about the exhibition:

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Visit Mark Sheerin's contemporary art blog and follow him on Twitter.
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