courtesy Mazzoleni, London-Torino
Opening online on 14 April 2020 at 5pm CET (Milan) / 4pm GMT (London) / 11pm HKT (Hong Kong) / 8am PST (Los Angeles) / 11am EST (New York), VSpace is a new walkable and flexible immersive experience for the art world you can enjoy from home.
April 12, 2020
Each day’s program in this ongoing weekly series will focus on one of the gallery's artists, their art and practice, collective histories, and plans for the future. Follow the gallery on Instagram to explore.
Tuesday is #InTheStudio, Wednesday - #InDetail, Thursday takes us #InTheArchive, Friday’s are #FilmFridays and Saturday is #StaffPicksSaturday.
April 10, 2020
[The art happens here] is an online platform dedicated to the showcasing of digital art. The creation of [The art happens here] provides a natural extension to the gallery’s offline programme which has as one of its strengths the presentation of “digital natives” or artists making art that engages with technology and the internet.
April 5, 2020
While the Gallery buildings are closed and live programmes suspended, the Serpentine’s work continues. Audiences can join the programme online through digital commissions, special broadcasts, podcasts and more.
April 3, 2020
Simon Lee Gallery presents Puzzled Daydreams, a solo exhibition by Hong Kong-based artist Chris Huen Sin Kan. Bringing together new paintings and works on paper, this exhibition launches Simon Lee Gallery’s new Online Viewing Room, and is available to view exclusively online from Friday 3 April.
April 2, 2020
While the physical exhibition at Di Donna in New York has been postponed due to the current health crisis, the gallery's inaugural online viewing room celebrates the dynamic range of the Portuguese-born modernist painter's body of work.
April 1, 2020
The exhibition features a new group of drawings by George Condo which are related to his most recent painting series ‘Distanced Figures.’ Made during the last three weeks, in the artist’s home studio in New York state, these portrait drawings are evocative of the experience of isolation during this unsettling period of social distance.
Hauser & Wirth will donate 10 percent of profits from online exhibitions, including 'George Condo. Drawings for Distanced Figures', to the COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund for WHO. This is part of a new philanthropic initiative #artforbetter, through which Hauser & Wirth will provide charitable support to both global and local causes.
March 30, 2020
Starting on Monday 30 March, Lisson Gallery will be showing exclusive and full-length single-channel films including video, documentary, digital and archival works. For each of these six-week, rolling programmes – themed and curated individually – one work will be streamed online weekly, available to view on the gallery's website.
March 27, 2020
Tabish Khan’s article “How To See London's Top Exhibitions From Your Sofa” for The Londonist as London’s galleries shut down due to coronavirus, says of GalleriesNow:
view the exhibition here
and browse all the VR tours here
March 4, 2020
courtesy Mazzoleni, London-Torino
Zappettini in his studio, photo: Massimo V. Ronchi
Luigi Mazzoleni: When I saw the installation project for your exhibition, I thought: “Who knows what impact these new works will have on the London public?” When I saw the works installed, I realized that they would be a very strong attraction for Mayfair visitors. Can you tell us about your process for this exhibition?
Gianfranco Zappettini: I thought about this installation carefully by observing the beautiful space of your gallery. The dark grey colour seemed perfect as a background (almost the same colour as your logo!) for the works of the “Con-Centro” series, while for other works it was more appropriate to keep the walls white. I thought of the exhibition as a unique work, composed of many works, to be judged as a whole.
Jose Graci: This exhibition must surely be seen in person. Also, because the overview makes the symbolic meaning of the title more explicit: “The Golden Age”.
“I thought of the exhibition as a unique work,
composed of many works,
to be judged as a whole”
GZ: The Golden Age of the title is not the hope for an era of material well-being. It is the reference to a future age in which the human being will again be in harmony with himself and with the world around him. I don't say it, the great Eastern sacred texts say it. Gold is a symbol of this harmony, of this perfection.
JG: An era in which man will find his inner centre?
GZ: That's right, that “golden mean” is necessary for one's own evolution. In medio stat virtus, the Romans said. The works of the “Con-Centro” series allude to this.
LM: There is a room in the exhibition which I never fail to step in at least once a day. It is the one dedicated to the “la Luce Prima” series. There are no lights aimed at the works, nor even lights that come from the works, but these Wood lamps inserted in the paintings. They do not illuminate directly, but by reflection: they cause objects in the room to be illuminated with reflected light. But the source of that light remains elusive, doesn’t it?
Con-Centro no 28, 2019
courtesy Mazzoleni, London-Torino
GZ: You hit the spot perfectly. For this series I use Wood's lamp to symbolize the First Light, the Primordial Light, the one that generates the whole manifestation without being perceivable with human senses. It is the creative power that remains invisible, but that we can admire in its visible reflections.
JG: I understand what Luigi means, because I too often come into that room, to have a moment of peace. I find the sound you can hear also very soothing.
GZ: It is the vibration emitted by our planet in its perennial movement in the universe. It is another primordial element that I wanted to include in the installation. If you pay attention, the works look like a Buddhist or Sufi mantra. And it’s just like that: the Earth emits its mantra, and the Buddhist or Sufi mantra is the attempt to harmonize with the cosmos.
“the “Code of the Gods” alludes to a superhuman language, lost by men, bearer of very high knowledge”
Con-Centro no 103, 2018
courtesy Mazzoleni, London-Torino
Il codice degli dei no 35,
courtesy Mazzoleni, London-Torino
JG: The other series on display all have very profound symbolic meanings, yet the public is attracted by the works, almost as if this density of meaning acted like a magnet. And then, the aesthetic value of the works is also part of its force of attraction.
GZ: Yes, gold among its properties also has the attractive power of its beauty and shine. But aesthetics is not the ultimate goal I aim for when I work. I aim for the rightness of a work, its intrinsic balance. If a work is right, then it is also beautiful, and its aesthetic potential comes accordingly.
LM: Returning to the main theme of the exhibition, the Golden Age, I was intrigued by the series of the “Code of the Gods”. In front of me I found these square plates, more or less large, on which lines of a text are written which is incomprehensible to the common spectator. I wondered if the row fragments painted in gold have a meaning to decipher?
GZ: I can't answer you and I'll tell you why. The “Code of the Gods” alludes to a superhuman language, lost by men, bearer of very high knowledge. Let us not forget that in all traditions mankind is able to speak with its Creator: it is able through the prophets - who have a direct dialogue with the superhuman - and it is in the primordial age that follows the Creation, that of the so-called “earthly paradise”, which is precisely that Golden Age you are talking about. The artist has always played the role of the “vate”, poet or prophet, one who opens doors, who sees where mankind still cannot see. He therefore knows higher languages, incomprehensible to the viewer. So, I can't tell you if these works reproduce an underlying text or symbolize a mysterious and ancestral language: it would be like candidly admitting to have superior knowledge, I prefer to leave the viewer with the question pending.
courtesy Mazzoleni, London-Torino
JG: I believe that the volume published by Skira on the occasion of this exhibition also contributes to giving further value to all this. The texts by the curator Martin Holman, the professor of contemporary art Paola Valenti and Klaus Honnef give an appreciable contribution to the understanding of your work. What do you think?
GZ: I am convinced too. Martin understood perfectly the sense of the Golden Age, of my recent works. And for her text Paola Valenti found unpublished documents that I didn't even know, with patience like a real Carthusian.
LM: Then with Klaus Honnef a particular story joins it. Could you explain why?
GZ: It is the history of Analytical Painting. In the seventies Klaus set the theoretical cornerstones of that movement, which linked the research of artists scattered across the continent. The goal was to re-found the language of painting, because after the advent of Arte Povera and Conceptual Art in the 1960s, many still wondered the reason for the existence of painting, a discipline that seemed anachronistic. To Honnef, myself and to a handful of colleagues in Europe, it seemed evident that in reality painting only needed a deep analysis of its basic grammatical elements: what is colour really, what is the support, what is the process ... There were important group exhibitions on this theme, between Italy, Germany, Holland and France, to which Claude Viallat, Gotthard Graubner, Gerhard Richter with his grey monochromes were also invited. It was a underestimated but useful work, because the conditions were created for the great return of figuration to Europe in the late seventies to be accepted without scepticism. Painting cannot die, precisely because it is intrinsic to humankind as is the word. That's why in the last sixty years of my life I have done nothing but paint. Paint and look for myself, and I found that the two coincide. Then we remained friends with Klaus even if at a distance: we didn't see each other in Kassel's “documenta 6” in 1977: he was the curator of the painting section, I was one of the invited artists. This exhibition in London was an opportunity for us to meet again 43 years on – that’s news, isn't it?
Zappettini at work in his studio in 1975
courtesy Mazzoleni, London-Torino
February 19, 2020
photo © David Zink Yi. Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth
To coincide with his exhibition “Rare Earths” at Hauser & Wirth Zürich, GalleriesNow talks to David Zink Yi about the inspiration behind these new ceramic works - pieces which engage with the multimedia artist’s direct and intuitive approach to his practice.
17 January to 29 February 2020
photo: Wolfgang Stahr
GalleriesNow: You’re known for more figurative work, can you tell us how you came to concentrate on abstract pieces for this exhibition?
David Zink Yi: For me, there is not much opposition between figuration and abstraction. In a good work of art, the two always stay ambivalent. In my experience, some works find their form through something abstract, like a rhythm, pattern, or a single note played by a trumpet player. Some other pieces have their origin in more figurative ideas or they emerge from a concrete story. This would be the case in my work untitled (Architeuthis), a giant ceramic squid. The fact that the reproduction of this strange and incredible form is made out of fired earth, oxides and minerals, I believe it is more than just a figurative approach. The form and material combined embrace both abstract and concrete elements.
In Rare Earths, my show at Hauser & Wirth Zürich, I decided to only work with ceramics. After building my own studio with an industrial size kiln and exploring many different ideas, I found myself working on pieces for this specific space. I wanted to show works without thinking too much about whether they are abstract or figurative – it was a natural development.
“It is a process of
losing control and
having to accept
GN: I’m interested in the play between your stoneware “scribbles” and the rectilinear gallery windows on which they hang, this clearly was done on purpose, what interests you about that interplay?
DZY: I have been working with Hauser & Wirth since 2004 and every time I looked at the gallery’s space in Zurich, I had often wondered what would make a good piece for this huge and beautiful window facade. I wanted to work against the predictable and transform the window aside from its purpose purely as a light source. The windows are frosted white with a strong black raster pattern, which make them look like graphs for technical sketches. That’s how I came to the idea to make a group of drawings that would interact with the window fronts, contra-posing playful lines out of stoneware with the rigid order of the window frames. Throughout the day, the window front also presents an entire palette of greys and yellows as the daylight shifts and the clouds pass by, I really enjoy this aspect.
© David Zink Yi. Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth
GN: And there’s a similar counter-intuitive interplay between the sectional design of the freestanding stele and their finished appearance isn’t there?
DZY: The freestanding steles are inspired by recognized shapes and contours, some from an architectural context like skyscraper floor-plans and others from natural elements, such as a leaf from an oak tree. But through the behaviour of the material during the production process they become a kind of register of mistakes and chance – pieces with their own will. This willful behaviour of the material continues with the glazing process. They never get the appearance you would expect, or even the one you had planned. It is a process of losing control and having to accept the outcome.
© David Zink Yi. Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth
GN: The glazed pieces in “All My Colours” are both beautiful, and completely process-led - where do they come from and do you think you will ever stop making variations on them?
DZY: These pieces were conceived as an experiment to search for new colours and different surfaces/glazes, each one is unique. Their form was developed in order to understand the behaviour of the glaze on an uneven shape, and at a certain point, I realised that these forms were very suggestive. They started as a pragmatic necessity to discover and create glazes myself through my own mixtures and to create an archive of these material possibilities. But it later became an artistic obsession for me. Gradually they revealed themselves as paintings too. They oscillate between paintings and objects, but also between methodic experiments and pieces open to all kinds of associations for the viewer. I doubt very much that I will stop making them as long as I keep working with ceramics. They are all my colours and I hope I never end searching for new or different ones.
November 4, 2019
Silvia Giambrone, 'TRAUM' (2019) (photo: Tom Dale)
As part of the exhibition “Feminism in Italian Contemporary Art”, curated by Paola Ugolini at Richard Saltoun Gallery, GalleriesNow organised - in association with Outset Contemporary Art Fund - a special evening performance and talk at the gallery in London for selected guests.
Gallery artist Silvia Giambrone gave a performance of her work “TRAUM”, a visceral investigation of the role of violence in relationships, which was followed by an in conversation about her work with journalist Hettie Judah.
“Feminism in Italian Contemporary Art” forms part of Richard Saltoun Gallery’s 12-month programme dedicated to supporting the work of female artists. Titled 100% Women, the programme aims to remedy the gender inequality that persists in the art world and encourage wider industry action through debate, dialogue and collaboration. 100% Women will pursue its mission through a combination of gallery exhibitions, art fair presentations, artist talks, a film and lecture series, external collaborations and digital exhibitions hosted on the gallery’s new online platform.
With thanks to Silvia Giambrone, Hettie Judah, and all at Richard Saltoun Gallery.
September 26, 2019
The Autumn/Winter London Gallery Map is available now!
Over 200 exhibitions and auctions and information on more than 150 leading galleries and public museums across the city.
Pick up your free copy at the VIP desks of Frieze and Frieze Masters - download here - or ask for one at any leading gallery.
GalleriesNow presents a curated selection of the world's best exhibitions at leading galleries, serving an international audience of collectors, curators and art professionals. We have produced print maps in London and New York since 2013. Participation involves a review process, if you would like information on subscriptions please contact email@example.com or call us on +44 20 7534 9898.
August 27, 2019
Amy Sherald in her studio, 2019 (photo: Melanie Dunea)
Marc Payot has been at Hauser & Wirth for almost 20 years, where he is a Partner alongside co-founders Iwan and Manuela Wirth. Over the course of the last decade, Payot has spearheaded the gallery’s major expansion in the US, which has included taking on a number of significant contemporary American artists. One new addition to the program is Amy Sherald, who speaks with Payot here ahead of her first show with the gallery opening at its 22nd Space in New York on September 10.
“Artists of color are using portraiture to author a narrative of people that art history was written without. It speaks to the human condition and holds up a mirror to life. It now employs colorful reflections and representations of everyday people on the walls of museums where there were once misrepresentations. Showing life as it is.”
Marc Payot: One thing I love about your work is how you have taken the traditional and time-old genre of the portrait and made it feel radical and entirely new. How do you approach portraiture?
Amy Sherald: Portraiture as a genre has come to have a new face. The tradition of portraiture has become a way to reclaim time and space within an art historical narrative that is mostly starkly European. It no longer belongs to the social elite. Artists of color are using portraiture to author a narrative of people that art history was written without. It speaks to the human condition and holds up a mirror to life. It now employs colorful reflections and representations of everyday people on the walls of museums where there were once misrepresentations. Showing life as it is. I like to say it’s the soul food of all the different genres.
Marc: Your work starts with a snapshot of someone you find on the street, and the eventual paintings remain photographic in essence. It’s clear you have an interest in photography as a compositional and documentary tool. What does photography mean to you? And how does an interest in photography extend to your work? Do you have an intent?
Amy: My first interaction with photography was through my own family photographs. As a very young girl on rainy days, I would sift through boxes and boxes of pictures that my mother kept in our family room cabinet. I was always drawn to a black and white photograph of my Grandmother Jewel whom I never got to meet. She died during childbirth in Alabama after being turned away from a whites-only hospital, not receiving the medical attention she needed. That beautiful black and white photographed portrait of my grandmother was the only means I had of getting to know her. She was wearing a black beret and a houndstooth coat. She looked proud and self-assured. Looking back, it was far different from the representation I had encountered of myself within the art canon.
Marc: So would you say photography for you is about capturing the “essence” of your sitter, about creating a fixed moment to use as a staring point? Can you talk about how you choose your subjects?
Amy: Sure. Living in Baltimore, Maryland it was very easy to find the extraordinary living among the ordinary. The people I find seem to possess a kind of presence that feels nostalgic. They are how we saw ourselves in our future, long ago when life was unsure, and freedom came at a cost.
There have been a couple of instances where I painted the sitter just as I encountered them, but for the most part they are dressed in clothes that I find in second-hand shops. It’s not always easy to approach people you don’t know and ask them to give something of themselves, something that you can’t explain with words. The joy of finding the right people at the right time is exhilarating.
If possible, I always try to shoot the sitter outside in natural light. Normally late morning is the perfect time for me. It usually takes a little bit of time for them to forget about the camera. I have to stand fairly close and this can sometimes be intimidating. I usually get the right shot when we are mid-chat about something other than what we are doing. People often ask if I get to know my models. I say that it’s honestly difficult for me to see them as themselves once the painting commences. They become a symbolic tool shifting our own perceptions of who we are, resurfacing the walls of museums and art history. American art history to be more specific. All that being said the contribution of their presence is inimitable.
Once complete I decide my background color based on the outfit, or vice versa. The drawing is done directly on the canvas primarily in charcoal, which offers me the flexibility of erasure while in the process of solidifying the drawing. Once the drawing is complete, that painting begins. The details of the image can sometimes deviate from the original photograph sketch, but for the most part it stays true to the image that I start with.
Marc: So the sitters you find are your ultimate inspiration, and your use of photography clearly has personal roots in your own experience of photography as a “memorializing” tool. How does an interest in photography extend to your work?
Amy: Yes, most of my inspiration comes from photography. I have been captivated by its capacity to narrate a truer history that counters a salient dominant historical narrative. It was the first medium I saw that made what was absent, visible. It gave people who once had no control over the proliferation of their own image the ability to become authors of their own narratives.
In regard to historical painters, Alice Neel is one of my true inspirations. She was a pioneer among women artists. Although minimally rendered, her paintings feel to me more alive than the most detailed paintings. I also find inspiration among my contemporaries. Women like Njideka Akunyili Crosby and Lynette Yiadom-Boakye are redefining and changing the face of painting and addressing the history of representation.
Marc: Your work feels inherently “American.” Where do you see your work in relation to the larger American painting tradition?
Amy: I really see myself working within the tradition of American Realism. I look at America’s heart—people, landscapes, and cityscapes—and I see it as an opportunity to add to an American art narrative that was written by painters who were mostly white and male. The stories of American Realism recognize how America found its identity in its art. I paint because I am looking for myself in art history and in the world.
Amy Sherald: the heart of the matter… opens at Hauser & Wirth West 22nd Street, NYC on September 10
May 24, 2019
The GalleriesNow rundown of this year’s degree shows
Central Saint Martins
Show One: Art
Kingston School of Art
Degree Show 2019
Slade School of Fine Art
The Courtauld Institute of Art
MA Curating the Art Museum: GENERATIONS: Connecting Across Time and Place
8 June-4 July
Wimbledon College of Arts
Undergraduate & MFA Fine Art Summer Show 2019
Arts & Creative Industries Degree Show 2019
Chelsea College of Arts
Undergraduate Summer Show 2019
Camberwell College of Arts
Undergraduate & MA Conservation Summer Show 2019
Central Saint Martins
Show Two: Design
BA Fine Art & History of Art
City & Guilds of London Art School
Degree Show 2019
Royal College of Art
29 June-7 July
Chelsea College of Arts
MA Curating and Collections Show 2019
MA Fine Art Summer Show 2019
Camberwell College of Arts
MA Visual Arts Summer Show 2019
MFA Fine Art
May 13, 2019
Robin Cawdron-Stewart, Preston Fitzgerald and Stephen Feeke (photo: Flavia Rittner)
Collecting Ceramics and Glass
Last week GalleriesNow held a debate at Sotheby’s looking at Collecting Ceramics and Glass. Three experts – collector Preston Fitzgerald, curator Stephen Feeke and auction specialist Robin Cawdron-Stewart – were asked to look at the most influential exhibitions, the artists and galleries to watch, as well as tell us about their own experiences of collecting and curating. The discussion included why they started working in this field and what art works they wish they had brought.
ArtPassport events are held in association with Outset Contemporary Art Fund and offer collectors the opportunity to meet artists and curators, gain access to special exhibitions, and learn about the most significant contemporary artworks of our time. For more information email firstname.lastname@example.org.
This GalleriesNow Collect event was presented in association with Outset Contemporary Art and Sotheby’s
April 26, 2019
Tony Chambers writes for ES Magazine on ‘the app that takes you inside the best art exhibitions’
“ArtPassport, the app from GalleriesNow that delivers an immersive experience of current exhibitions from top global galleries straight to your phone, has been upgraded. It now offers users an enhanced VR experience with improved navigation and a pinch-zoom feature to get an even closer look at pieces of art. The app has searchable listings, gallery guides in more than 40 major cities and a new ‘NearMe’ button, letting you find art just around the corner.
The best part is, it’s free - a commitment to bringing art to all.”
Tony Chambers is Brand and Content Director of Wallpaper* Magazine
March 29, 2019
by Astrid Bernadotte
Internationally celebrated for his humorous and playfully ambiguous sculptures, Franz West revolutionised the concept of sculpture through his pioneering efforts that explored the relationship between art and the viewer. His oeuvre spans a number of different media that include painting, collage, furniture and installation. West was heavily influenced by various performance art movements of the 1960s, including the Viennese Actionists, which he interpreted into an interactive series of papier-mâché sculptures known as Adaptives or Paßstücke. With this breakout body of work, West redefined the spectator’s experience with sculpture by creating an active dialogue between the two. Believing that art should have a function, West’s sculptures are both physically and intellectually immersive for the viewer, and it is through his experimental and innovative use of form, materials, language and colour that West set a new precedent for sculpture from the second half of the twentieth century.
Franz West was born in Vienna, Austria, in 1947. His father was a coal trader and his mother a dentist, whose practice was adjacent to the family apartment in a modern public housing project named Karl-Marx Hof. West recalled a very regimented childhood following the Second World War and recounted a ‘time of darkness’. His playground was amongst the ruins of the War, nestled within the burnt rubble and shattered glass of bombed houses in his neighbourhood.
As an adolescent, West grew up in a politically conflicted time. Post-War Vienna was struggling to extricate itself from its recent troublesome history. Many people during the War had either joined or were forced to join the Nazi Party, and the majority of the Viennese shied away from confronting their past. This reticence spurred a number of political and artistic counter movements in the 1960s, one of which were the Viennese Actionists, who were part of a short-lived yet influential movement of controversial performance artists that directly addressed the horrors of the war and Austria’s role within it. Their aim was to shock the public out of their conservative traditions with outrageous public acts of sado-masochism; West was profoundly affected by the violent and provocative outbursts of the movement. He was present during an infamous performance in 1968 by Günter Brus, a co-founder of the group, who masturbated in public whilst simultaneously smearing his body with his own faeces and singing the Austrian national anthem. Brus subsequently served a six-month prison sentence for ‘degrading symbols of the state’. West also witnessed Hermann Nitsch, another founder of the movement, disembowel the carcass of a dead lamb on top of a white canvas, which caused weeks of distress for the teenager.
West rejected the aggressive ideologies of the Actionist movement, opposing their macabre seriousness and instead sought to incorporate humour, wit and philosophy into his art. He did, however, draw upon and modify a number of the Actionist’s principle foundations, such as the notion that the human body can be used as a living canvas, as well as their innovative use of ordinary household objects in their performances. Incorporating objects such as buckets, musical instruments and empty bottles, they re-contextualised their function by removing them from their associated setting and instead placing them in bizarre and challenging environments. Additionally, West and the Viennese Actionists shared the belief that art can be used as a tool to access the human psyche, albeit through very different methods; West steered clear of the shock factor, instead preferring to subtly engage the subconscious through his work. The Actionists provided West with the provocative tools that would help to lay the foundations of his work.
During this period, West constructed witty collages using popular newspaper advertisements and a bricolage of cut-outs from soft-porn magazines. He fused seemingly random text and images together to create comical conclusions that, at times, directly poked fun at the Actionists. From the very beginning of his career, West playfully manipulated everyday imagery and materials in a novel format.
A MOTHER’S INFLUENCE
Throughout his youth, West struggled with a sense of displacement. His mother was Jewish, but his father was not, which meant that his family were not fully accepted into either of their local communities. For a certain period, West became part of the first wave of the Beat Generation; a literary movement whose work would later greatly influence American culture and politics. In line with the lifestyle of the movement, he experimented with narcotics, travelled aimlessly to Baghdad and Tehran, and caroused about in cafés in Vienna with other Existentialists. It wasn’t until 1977, at the age of 30, that West enrolled at the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna, where he studied under Bruno Gironcoli.
It was largely to appease his mother that West finally decided to pro-actively pursue a career in art. She was exasperated with his idleness and believed in his artistic potential. As a child she had frequently travelled with West to other European countries to admire the classical architecture of churches and to study Renaissance paintings. As a result, West greatly credited his mother as a source of both motivation and inspiration. He humorously cited that his first interaction with Actionism was through his mother’s dental practice. After the War, anaesthetic in Vienna was scarce and West recalled the screams that would emanate from his mother’s surgery. She would later emerge in the doorway with her apron covered in blood. West jokingly believed she was subconsciously an Actionist or at least deserved to be an honorary member. His mother also sourced his first experimental material of white gauze and plaster from her surgery.
ADAPTIVES - PAßSTÜCKE
Experimenting with everyday materials led West to discover the bountiful qualities of papier-mâché; a medium that today has become synonymous with his practice. The material was used to create one of his most famous body of works, the Adaptives, also referred to as Paßstücke. The name was coined by the Austrian poet and West’s great friend, Reinhard Priessnitz, and fittingly describes their purpose - to adapt to the human body. These early sculptures were first constructed in the mid 1970s and by using papier-mâché, wire, plaster or polyester, West could easily sculpt ambiguous organic forms that would later harden to become rock solid. He typically painted them white, as he believed colour would distract from their arbitrary functions. Light-weight and only a few feet in size, these portable sculptures are interactive, demanding the viewer’s intervention rather than observation. West famously stated that “it doesn’t matter what art looks like but how it’s used” and argued that there is beauty in function. Modernists such as Le Courbusier, championed the notion that if something is of high quality it will work perfectly, and it is within that perfection that beauty arises and as a result ‘form follows function’. Similarly, West’s aesthetics derive from not only their visual quirkiness but also from their use. The participation of the viewer is paramount and only by holding, touching, wearing or using the artwork in some way are the Adaptives deemed complete.
West was a great admirer of Joseph Beuy’s, who once told him that “every human being is an artist.” West took this concept literally and incorporated this notion into his work. The artist and the viewer equally collaborate to shape the artwork’s meaning; the artist by creating the work and the viewer by reacting with and interpreting the sculpture. Adaptives are also referred to as prosthetics, which reflects one of their many functions: to be an extension of the viewer who is an integral part of the process.
Franz West, Untitled (Hat), 1983.
West challenged traditional concepts of sculpture and eradicated the taboo of touching art. He demolished hierarchy in the relationship between the viewer and the artwork by inviting physical interaction. The concept of picking up a work of art is counter-intuitive to most, but through these radically immersive Adaptives the constraints of the “normal” art experience is liberated, and an ongoing dialogue is formed. Art was no longer passive and unresponsive to the viewer, one now had to address the work and think how to engage with it. Consequently, West earned the title of the ‘gentle anarchist.’
West was continually fascinated by people’s reactions to art and studied how others would conduct themselves in public and around artworks. Subsequently, West’s sculptures tap into one’s playful and inquisitive side, turning even the most serious of participants into comical performers. His work is purposefully captivating and designed to distract from the reality and troubles of daily life. They encourage the viewer to break out of their comfort zone and indulge in the innocence of slap-stick fun.
As the viewer physically interacts with an Adaptive, a performance is inadvertently created, one which parallels the Happenings and performance art movements that were prevalent during the 1960s and 1970s. The material itself relates to the theatre, as traditionally papier-mâché was used to create stage backdrops and masks. This connection is no coincidence and alludes to the many ways in which West would insert multiple hidden layers behind his seemingly simple and humorous sculptures. His work is simultaneously light-hearted and deeply philosophical. In many of his sculptures he incorporated everyday objects, items such as empty bottles, mechanical parts, legs of furniture, tinned cans or walking sticks. West transformed the mundane and ordinary into unfamiliar yet recognisable shapes. In reference to his sculptures he once claimed that he believed, “if one could see neurosis, this is what it would look like.” West’s innovative use of re-attribution distorts the status quo and disturbs the objects ability to fulfil its original purpose; one can no longer drink from the bottle or eat from the can. This change in function, challenges the viewers’ accepted norms of reality, where everything is neatly de ned, identifiable and easily placed, which in turn explores the psychology of how art is interpreted. Perhaps it is not surprising that psychology is at the crux of West’s work, considering that, through Freud, Austria is the birthplace of psychoanalysis. Freud had a heavy influence on West, so much so that he modelled his renowned divans on Freud’s therapy couch.
“The perception of art takes place through the pressure points that develop when you lie on it”
- Franz West
Franz West, Auditorium, 1992. Installation at Documenta IX, Kassel.
In the early 1980s, West turned his attention to furniture. He fashioned divans out of metal, foam and wire, that were surprisingly comfortable, and referred to them as “Adaptives for the human body at rest.” During this period, West’s international reputation was growing, but it wasn’t until 1992 whilst exhibiting at Documenta IX in Kassel that he firmly placed himself on the art map with his conceptual and public installation - Auditorium. Made up of seventy-two upholstered divans covered in Persian rugs, the work was installed in an open-air car park. They were directly inspired by the famous divan in Freud’s office on which his patients lay during his psychoanalytical therapy sessions. Freud believed that the divan was an instrumental tool in relaxing the human psyche and West believed the same. His interactive installation took on a life of its own and it unintentionally became the meeting hub for visitors at the exhibition.
Auditorium exceeded its purpose of facilitating public interaction, both with his installation as well as with one another. Many of West’s works can be seen as functional social experiments; observational tools in decoding man’s relationship with art. This installation relied on man’s natural tendency to congregate, socialise and communicate. It functioned by opening up a dialogue with the human psyche, something which is at the heart of all of Franz West’s work.
“It doesn’t matter what art looks like but how it’s used.”
- Franz West
Franz West in his Studio.
During the latter part of 1980s, West’s artistic vision, which necessitated interaction between sculpture and audience, was at odds with the desires of commercial galleries, who preferred the works to remain untouched and to be displayed traditionally in order to maintain their financial value. West decided that if his pieces could not be exhibited in the way that he intended, he too would adapt. In 1986 at Neue Galerie in Graz, he debuted a new series of works in an exhibition with the self-mocking title, Legitimate Sculptures. These vague bulbous forms were created from papier-mâché mixed with polystyrene, cardboard and lacquer. Larger in scale they sat perched on top of handmade plinths that accompanied the works. They were no longer easy to carry and too fragile to handle. In contrast to the stark white Adaptives, these works were mottled in brightly coloured reds, greens, pinks and blues, applied in thick layers that defied gravity by dripping in all directions.
West strived for a more critical analysis of his sculptures from the spectator. He recanted on his previous invitation to touch the works, this time visitors were requested to interact intellectually instead of physically. These sculptures reached their completion through the viewers examination and through the various chains of associations that are triggered whilst engaging with the work. The sculptures’ arbitrary forms are immediately intriguing, as their bulky contours coax the viewer to investigate further and, in-so-doing, anthropomorphic qualities may often start to manifest. Upon close inspection, one can make out a nose, an ear, or a chin, but as soon as one grasps the physiognomy they vanish like a mirage, and the whole work morphs into something else entirely, such as a meteorite or an ice-cream cone.
In 1990, West was chosen to represent Austria at the Venice Biennale, and years later, in 2011 he was awarded the Biennale’s Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement. The 1990s was a period where he flourished, and West continued to push the boundaries of sculpture by exploring new forms and materials. He encountered the robust and glossy surface of aluminium, which was in stark contrast to the fragility and rough texture of papier-mâché. This new material allowed West to produce much larger and sturdier sculptures that could be placed outdoors. Never without humour and always venerating the mundane, West claimed his new oblong shapes, were inspired by the Viennese sausage. Although deemed to be abstract forms, their phallic shapes are purposefully suggestive and playful. At the same time, they act as satirical critiques of the soft porn industry, which West also touched upon in his collages.
Patchworked and welded together, these brightly coloured aluminium sculptures tower in public settings such as parks and town squares, naturally inviting passers-by to interact. Ambiguous from afar, their function comes into focus as one gets closer, as they provide a seat to sit on. Seating areas are often revealed by a protruding arm or a specific curve in the work. This concept echoes West’s memories from his trips with his mother; he evoked the benches he found hidden in church alcoves where one could sit and piously reflect. He wanted his art to also provide an environment where one could rest in contemplation.
Painted in hot monochromatic colours, sourced from a Toys “R” Us catalogue, bubble gum pink, baby blue, forest green and submarine yellow, the colour palette adds to the toy-like quality and playfulness of the sculptures. Although, West did not view himself as a great colourist, colour is a key element in his work. The bright white of the Adaptives call to mind a blank canvas with endless possibilities, as well as a sense of purity and innocence. In his later works, the vibrant colours act as a honey trap that draws the spectator in and, like a magpie, one is enticed to touch the glossy surface. The use of pink features heavily, either as a bold blanket of colour or sprayed on top of other layers of colour and is a reference to his mother and her dentistry; pink being the colour of dentures and gums.
These sculptures come in various forms, sometimes worm-like or as twirling ribbons or spheres. As a result of their obscure shapes and bold colours, they are devoid of any responsibility to fit in or adapt to their environment. West wanted to offend nature in order to create a dialogue, therefore the more garish the colour the more sublime the work became to him.
Both intrusive and inviting, these sculptures create their own environment where form and function are roughly compatible rather than mutually exclusive. West stated that he never planned his works but instead, like the Abstract Expressionists, believed that spontaneity was key in finding complex order in disorder.
Franz West, Untitled (painted by Herbert Brandl), 1986.
Throughout his career, West collaborated with a multitude of artists, often inviting them to paint his papier-mâché sculptures as well as make additions to his collages. He would also frequently include works by other artists into his own exhibitions. West never believed in the notion of the individual artistic genius, nor the creation of a great masterpiece. Instead, he was interested in collaborations. In the same way that he invited the viewer to complete his works through interacting with them, West invited other artists to paint his papier-mâché creations. Throughout his career, he worked with leading visual artists, including Douglas Gordon, Marina Faust, Mike Kelley, Sarah Lucas, Michelangelo Pistoletto, Rudolf Stingel and Herbert Brandl. From 1988, an intense collaboration between Brandl and West had developed. Brandl frequently painted West’s sculptures and participated in the creation of his works, but they also collaborated on involving the viewer in both of their works simultaneously. In 1994, for an exhibition at the Lisson Gallery in London, suitably titled Konversation, Brandl produced a painting that depicted an eye that was to be observed whilst drinking wine from a vessel that West had created.
For West, collaborations were not only important to expand and finish his works, they also helped to illustrate and solidify the concept that producing art is an open and interactive process.
Installation view of Sisyphos Sculptures, 2002 at Gagosian Gallery, London, 2018.
The importance of colour, form and function is visually evident in West’s work, but equally important is his subtle use of language to provide multiple contexts for his arbitrary forms. West was strongly influenced by renowned philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein, who explored the various tools of language and semantic games. Wittgenstein argued that the meaning of a word is its function, but this meaning is not necessarily exclusive to referencing one thing; words are not fixed, but instead are dependent upon their context. West applied this theory to his art, allowing art to have meaning through multiple interpretations. Subsequently, West preferred to use the word ‘object’ instead of ‘sculpture’, in reference to his own work. He argued that ‘object’ is a word associated with an abstract form whereas ‘sculpture’ denotes figuration.
Although West insisted his work not be limited by a set meaning or single construct, he often used accompanying text to suggest a particular conceptual aspect of a piece. His 2002 series entitled Sisyphos is indicative of his use of philosophical archetypes that simultaneously reference classical mythology. These painted mounds of papier-mâché, cardboard and Styrofoam are named after the mythical king Sisyphos, who was punished by Zeus for being devious and conceited. He was sentenced to eternally push a heavy boulder up a steep hill, only for it to roll back down as soon as he got within reach of the top. The title of this series alludes to the eternal struggles and frustrations that artists are doomed to endure in their artistic pursuits. However, without its title, it would have remained completely abstract and without context. West continued to make similar works which resembled large heavy boulders throughout his career but gave them different titles or none at all.
West also provides nonsensical titles to provoke viewers; such was the case with his 2013 retrospective at The Hepworth Wakefield Museum where he played with free association. West sadly died in 2012 during the preparations for the exhibition but on his death bed, when asked what he wanted the show to be called, he replied “Where is my Eight?” West was satirical to the very end, as none of the curators understood the meaning behind the title. For the last time, he demonstrated that ambiguity opens an infinite number of interpretations, which then create personal dialogues with the viewers.
From the very beginning and in contrast to his peers, Franz West declared his allegiance to sculpture and was committed to the importance of physically creating a work of art. For West, without a physical entity, the ability to engage the viewer and form a dialogue would be lost. This exchange between viewer and artwork is paramount, be-it through touch or interpretation, dialogue lies at the foundation of Franz West’s practice. His innovative use of materials, form, colour and language, blurred the lines between sculpture, installation and furniture. As a result, West created new archetypes for sculpture that allowed the viewer to intervene and interact. His sculptures captivate us because, although they are inherently ambivalent, they provide small glimpses of recognisable shapes, hidden in the contours of the work. He taunts our instant re ex to identify and contextualise what is in front of us, highlighting the psychological need to understand and dispel the abstract. This, in turn, plays an important role in opening the human psyche, as every person’s experiences are individual.
Franz West, Untitled, 2007.
There is no single concept or prescribed meaning that West conveys. He used abstract forms to create a multitude of different interpretations which can alter from day to day, depending on the individual and their state of mind. West’s sculptures demand attention, drawing the viewer into a world that is both ambiguous and unnerving at times. They are simultaneously philosophical and literal, and it is through these revolutionary constructs that he has altered our perception of sculpture forever.
Astrid Bernadotte is Gallery Director at Omer Tiroche Gallery, London.
Franz West: Indoor Sculptures is on view at Omer Tiroche Gallery, London until June 7, 2019.
Concurrent exhibitions with works by Franz West are also on view at Tate Modern, London; David Zwirner, London and Hauser & Wirth, Zürich.
March 21, 2019
The second COLLECT event was held on 20 March in collaboration with the Victoria Miro Gallery and the Embassy of Denmark.
Jacob Thage, Director of the Museum Jorn, Silkeborg, flew in from Denmark to give a talk about Danish artists Asger Jorn, Per Kirkeby, and Tal R, on view at Victoria Miro.
Jacob explored common themes across the work on show, while also looking at the inspiration taken from American Pop Art and stylistic similarities, such as the use of collage displayed in the exhibition.
More than seventy people attended the event, which offered a last chance to see the exhibition.
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This GalleriesNow Collect event was presented in association with Outset Contemporary Art, The Embassy of Denmark and the Victoria Miro Gallery