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Site specific sculpture by late artist Franz West is installed in museum's sculpture garden
Franz West, Lips, 2012. Aluminum, epoxy resin, Courtesy of Gagosian Gallery.

PHILADELPHIA, PA.- On display in the Museum’s Anne d’Harnoncourt Sculpture Garden is a newly installed large-scale sculpture conceived in three parts by acclaimed Austrian artist Franz West (Austrian, 1947-2012). Created specifically for the Garden’s Lower Terrace, Lips (2012) is the last commission West realized prior to his untimely death in July of 2012 and will serve as a testament to the powerful legacy of the artist’s influential work.

Colorful, abstract, and monumental, Lips speaks to the radical impulse and playfulness that characterizes West’s oeuvre. Rising from the Garden in a contoured arrangement of animated shapes, this trio of slender biomorphic forms creates a striking silhouette against the surrounding urban skyline in a vibrant palette of green, blue, and pink. With its spiraling forms extending skyward to a height of 30 feet, West’s dynamic installation invites both enjoyment and contemplation. At the ground level, each of these whimsical objects serves as outdoor seating, encouraging visitors to interact with the work and transforming the landscape into a social platform by establishing a relationship between art and audience.

“The installation of this exceptional sculpture that so richly animates the garden comes at a poignant moment as we remember Franz West and his many achievements,” said Timothy Rub, the George D. Widener and Chief Executive Officer of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. “It is a joyful, buoyant work that we hope will offer both a sense of wonder and pleasure to our visitors.”

Influenced by the philosophical writings of Ludwig Wittgenstein, West chose a title he described as “outside of the usual meaningfulness.” Emphasizing the lack of relation between name and perceived object, West’s Lips prompts an aesthetic and intellectual engagement beyond the limitations of fixed meaning and experience.

"It is significant and deeply moving that Franz conceived this work specifically for this site, and that he could execute it and complete the plans for its installation before his death,” states Carlos Basualdo, the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s Keith L. and Katherine Sachs Curator of Contemporary Art. “His irreverent intelligence, his surprising erudition and his refreshing joie de vivre will be sorely missed. We are very fortunate to have the great gift of being able to live with this work in our Garden, which is a brilliant reminder of his generosity and his talent."

Born in Vienna in 1947, Franz West was raised in the city’s conservative post-war climate. Reacting against the radical, often violent, manifestations of the Viennese Actionists in the late 1960s, West’s early work sought to activate the relationship between art and audience by focusing on the social and participatory possibilities of art. Developing an artistic sensibility that consistently probed the boundaries of accepted genres, West’s practice came to encompass the mediums of sculpture, collage, installation, furniture design, and large-scale public works.

Reflecting his keen interest in Freudian psychology as well as the philosophies of Ludwig Wittgenstein, West’s art became an exploration of human behavior through form. By addressing the everyday habits of the human body at the formal level in his work, West sought to create an art that could be appreciated and experienced on a physical level, an “art you could really get in touch with.” An early example of this can be found in West’s Paßstück sculptures from the 1970s, commonly referred to as “Adaptives.” Whether propped against gallery walls or resting on makeshift pedestals, these anthropomorphic sculptures made of plaster were created to be carried, worn, and activated physically by the spectator. In West’s later public artworks, often recognizable for their patchwork surfaces of bandaged aluminum, the artist extended these corporeal concerns to inhabit large-scale proportions.

Working in a wide variety of media, West consistently sought to articulate an irreverent aesthetic, disrupting the white walls of the traditional art context while establishing a visceral engagement between his art and the audience that cemented his position as one of the most significant figures of contemporary art today.

In 2011, Franz West received the acclaimed Golden Lion award for lifetime achievement at the Venice Biennale. Recent solo exhibitions have been held at the Baltimore Museum of Art (2008) and the MUMOK in Vienna and The State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg (both in 2007). West’s work has also been exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Museo Nacional de Arte Reina Sofía in Madrid, and the National Museum in Oslo.

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