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Franz West: Where is my Eight? opens at Museum moderner Kunst Stiftung Ludwig
exhibition view Franz West. Wo ist mein Achter?, mumok, 23.02. – 26.05.2013. From left: Franz West, NYCNAC, 2008 (Paravent mit Tapete, 2 (bis zu 8)Passstücke und Video); Epiphanie an Stühlen, 2011 (hängende Skulptur, 2 Stühle);ohne Titel, 2012 (Aluminium lackiert, Fertigstellung posthum); Canale Grande (mit Tamuna Sirbiladze), 2010 (2 Liegen, Wandbespannung); ohne Titel, 2012 (Aluminium lackiert, Fertigstellung posthum) Photo: mumok/Gregor Titze© Franz West/mumok.

VIENNA.- Franz West was one of the most important Austrians in the international art world. The artist, who died in July 2012, achieved worldwide fame with his “Passstücke” [adaptives], his furniture and his sculptures for interior and exterior spaces. It is now sixteen years ago that the mumok organized Franz West’s first comprehensive retrospective. Now, once again, it is dedicating a large-scale exhibition to his work that was initiated and co-developed by him with great enthusiasm.

Combination und Recombination
The focus of the thematically structured presentation is on West’s combi-pieces, predominantly installative works in which the artist combined various individual pieces and subsequently recombined them in different configurations. The combination and recombination of different kinds of work such as adaptives, furniture, sculpture, videos or works on paper, from all different creative periods, means that the exhibition provides an overview of the whole spectrum of his oeuvre. Works by artist friends such as Martin Kippenberger, Rudolf Polanszky, Jason Rhoades or Heimo Zobernig are also included in these works.

“Everything we see could also be otherwise,” said Franz West in 1988, quoting philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein whom he valued highly and addressing an essential aspect of his own artistic approach. The principle of combination and recombination also corresponds to his conviction that the meaning of a statement— or a visual element—is never a fixed and clearly defined one but, rather, changes according to context and the reaction of the recipients.

Works in the exhibition
Visitors will be met by one of his Lemurs at the entrance to the museum: large-scale head-like forms with oversized openings for mouth and nose. In his writings West connected these with Heraclites’s famous dictum about things undergoing continuous change: “Ever newer waters flow on those who step into the same river, and (ever new) souls step from the wetness.” Heraclites Fragment 12 [1]. Thus this work provides an introduction to the subject of the exhibition.

The Genealogie des Ungreifbaren [Genealogy of the Untouchable] (1997) that stands right at the beginning of the show is a work which proves that the artist was never clung dogmatically to his own concepts. In a large vitrine-like box he combined three early adaptives with one of his first chairs. Thus works that were originally intended to be used are turned into “untouchable” examples of the development of his early work. Adaptives are also part of a combi-wall which, along with various works on paper, exhibits photos of people interacting with them. When supplemented by furniture, walls of this kind, Kasseler Rippchen [Kassel-style Spare Ribs] (1996) or Träumerei – Dreamy (1997) for example, become room-filling installations. One of the central exhibits is Redundanz [Redundancy], a three-part papier-mâché sculpture which is held to be a significant early example of West’s practice of combination and recombination. Shown in Vienna for the first time in 1986, the artist considered it necessary to supplement it with another sculpture thus replacing a part that had been sold against his will. The new version was entitled Reduktion [Reduction]. Since 2011 both versions of this work are part of the mumok’s holdings.

Permanent Change, Participation and Interaction
Franz West’s oeuvre is fundamentally participatory, it seeks dialogue with the recipient. Every one of his art products are invitations to interaction. This can take place on the physical level—as in the case of the adaptives which are meant to “adapt” to the body—but also on the mental or intellectual level, as is the case with his sculptures or works on paper. The latter are usually accompanied by texts which offer further stimulus for reactions.

West’s creations are the starting points for experiences, considerations, associations and deliberations, the trigger mechanism for a game with various possibilities of experiencing and viewing the world with an ever-changing result that depends on the recipient, context and atmosphere.

West’s art exhibits uncertainties in a way that is unpretentious, almost light-footed, and humorous although it is founded on an intense engagement with philosophical writings, an early concern which intensified throughout the artist’s life.

The title chosen by West for the exhibition is a further example of his practice of combination and recombination: the starting point is the gouache Lost Weight (2004) which features a woman who, having dieted, shows off her much-too-large trousers. The artist’s omission of the “W” transformed Lost Weight to Lost Eight which led to the question in the title: Where is my Eight? West leaves the answer to this question open, thus creating a space for us to make various associative connections.

After it has closed in Vienna, the Franz West. Where is my Eight? exhibition will be shown at the MMK Museum für Moderne Kunst Frankfurt am Main, Germany (29 June–13 October 2013).

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