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The BMA Organizes First Comprehensive Survey of Austrian Artist Franz West in the United States
Franz West. Ambulant Walk. 1996. Private Collection, New York, Courtesy of David Zwirner. ©Franz West. Photographer Mitro Hood

BALTIMORE, MD.- The Baltimore Museum of Art has organized the first comprehensive survey in the United States of Franz West, an internationally acclaimed Austrian artist whose singular vision has resulted in one of the most remarkable bodies of work produced since the 1960s. On view at the BMA October 12, 2008 – January 4, 2009, Franz West, To Build a House You Start with the Roof: Work, 1972‐2008 includes 117 objects that reflect West’s extraordinary innovations in sculpture, design, and on paper—ranging from early interactive works from the 1970s to two enormous brightly colored objects created for this exhibition.

Known for his intriguing sculptures, provocative collages, and giant outdoor installations, Franz West (b. 1947) has played a critical role in redefining the possibilities of sculpture as a social and environmental experience for the past three decades. His manipulation of found materials, papier‐mâché, and furniture is unlike any other in appearance and application. Though fundamentally sculptural in its construction, his work veers towards the biomorphic and prosthetic, mines the intellectualism of Freud and Wittgenstein, and possesses a sly wit and awkward beauty that speaks with equal fluency to the aesthetics of painterly abstraction and trash art.

Franz West, To Build a House You Start with the Roof features rarely seen examples of West’s work drawn from European and American museums and galleries as well as private collections. The exhibition is organized as a series of miniinstallations that invite visitors to encounter and occasionally touch a range of objects. Beginning in September, three of West’s candy‐colored sculptures will greet visitors outside of the Museum. These colorful organic forms include Dorit (2002), a 20‐foot tall column with four round orbs like pink gumballs on a pole, and Swimmer (2005) and Violetta. To the song of Gerhard Rühm: I like to rest on aquatic corpses (2005)―both recent additions to the BMA’s collection. Inside the Museum, the exhibition begins with two 25‐foot tall aluminum sculptures making their debut in Baltimore. These oversize looping objects titled The Ego and The Id (2008) offer a place for visitors to take a seat and become part of the art. Subsequent rooms include cabinets, tables, and chairs that infuse the art environment with the culture of bars, cafés, and domestic life (1990s), a large room with papier‐mâché groupings and an installation of free‐standing sculptures; and a gallery of stand‐alone works that are as beautiful as they are precarious‐looking (1980‐1990s). In the final Adaptives section (1970s), visitors can handle select human‐scaled plaster sculptures in a space tinged by the crimson hue of West’s floor lamps. Throughout the exhibition, groupings of West’s collages show the often cheeky and humorous influences of mass media, comic books, pop culture, and advertising.

In a gallery adjacent to the exhibition, an Inactivity Center inspired by West’s themes of leisure and relaxation will offer visitors a place to sit down and reflect on the artist’s work, read newspapers and magazines, or express their thoughts using word magnets to create poetry or prose. There will also be a telephone for curious visitors to “Dial a Curator,” select questions from a menu, and listen to pre‐recorded answers. Examples of questions are: “What does the title mean?” or “How does West create his sculptures?” On weekends, art interpreters called “Friends of Franz” will be available at select times to introduce people to West’s work and demystify the often baffling world of contemporary art.

West lives and works in Vienna, where he was born in 1947. West began his career in mid‐1960s Vienna when a local movement called Actionism was in full swing. West's earliest sculptures, performances, and collages were a reaction to this movement, in which artists engaged in displays of radical public behavior and physical endurance meant to shake up artworld passivity. In the early 1970s, West began making a series of small, portable sculptures called Adaptives (Passstücke), awkward‐looking plaster objects that were only completed as artworks when the viewer picked them up and carried them around, or performed some other inherently slapstick action with them. In many ways, his large‐scale aluminum sculptures from the past decade are simply overgrown versions of the Adaptives, but they also relate directly to his furniture installations. West has the ability to make comfortable and colorfully upholstered couches and chairs which transform galleries, museums, and public spaces into lounge‐like, sociable environments for viewing art.

West has exhibited internationally for more than three decades in galleries and museums, and at major festivals including Documenta IX (1992) and Documenta X (1997), Kassel, Germany; Sculpture Projects in Münster (1997); and the Venice Biennale (1988, 1993, 1997, 2003, 2007). In 1997, The Museum of Modern Art presented West with a solo show. More recently his work has been exhibited at the Museo Nacional de Arte Reina Sofía (2001), Whitechapel Gallery, London (2003); Kunsthalle Wien, Vienna (2003); and The Gagosian Gallery, London (2006) and Gagosian Gallery, New York (2008).

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