Franz West

1947 (Vienna) - 2012 (Vienna)

From 1977 to 1982 the artist studied at Vienna Academy of Fine Arts under Bruno Gironcoli. The development of Franz West’s art took a rather unusual turn. Strongly influenced by Wiener Aktionismus, the now highly acclaimed artist went through a difficult phase in which he failed to gain acknowledgement in the Vienna art scene and thus present his work to the public in the institutionalised exhibition environment, selling his collages on the streets instead.

During this time he became engrossed in the writings of Wittgenstein and Freud and later also in the works of recent French thinkers such as Barthes, Lacan or Deleuze. His commitment was expressed in a host of different media, from furniture to video film or philosophical and linguistic texts. His first sculptures, that exhibited “formes brutes”, show a clear influence of Expressionism.

Due to his penchant for archaic cultures, he cultivates a primitive technique, taking pleasure in “doing all the things that you are not allowed to do in art”. His work features a recurrent theme: the relationship to the body. All of his sculptures, be they useful or useless, take the human being as their measure. He also built “portable” structures, for example a kind of prostheses of rods and gauze bandages that force the body to assume a twisted posture (Adaptives) or his “Lemur Heads”.

He created “amorphous” sculptures inspired by African art. Finally, his work includes objects that he places in a “performative situation”, for example his metal beds or chairs welded together from various steel elements.The chairs and beds are direct associative transformations of conventional furniture, objects whose codified form corresponds to basic human behaviours, suggesting, but at the same time – being isolated art works – seeming to forbid physical references.

Franz West’s sculptures, that he places in a situation where they can remain unnoticed as sculptures, mark the transition from object to accessory, from presentation of the work as an object of contemplation to its exploitation and use as an integrated object in a particular place. This sometimes unconscious or unknowing activation of his works by the viewer constitutes the artistic event of Franz West’s work.

In 1988, 1990 and 1992 he designed the Austrian contribution to the Venice Biennale. From 1992 to 1994 Franz West was professor at the Städelschule, Frankfurt am Main. He has exhibited, among other places, at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1997 and at the documenta X in Kassel, in which he already took part in 1992. In 2006 his works were on show at the Albertina in Vienna and in 2008 he had an exhibition at the Museum of Applied Arts in Vienna. In 2010 he is exhibiting at Museum Ludwig in Cologne. The artist has received numerous awards, such as the Otto Mauer Prize in 1987, the EA Generali Foundation Sculpture Prize in 1994, and the Wolfgang Hahn Prize in 1998.