FRANKFURT.- The MMK Museum für Moderne Kunst
is opening a major survey exhibition entitled Franz West: Where Is My Eight? the first to feature a substantial number of sculptures, collages and large-scale room installations by Franz West (19472012) since his death. The presentation is being realized in cooperation with the mumok Museum Moderner Kunst Stiftung Ludwig in Vienna. Franz West, who is considered Austria's internationally most successful contemporary artist, initiated the exhibition himself before he died and was strongly and enthusiastically involved in its development.
The artist had a very close connection to Frankfurt am Main for many years; it was here in the forme Gallery run by the artist Jürgen Wegner that he had his first exhibition outside Austria back in 1979. An important show at the Portikus followed in the late eighties. From 1992 to 1994, the artist held a professorship at the Frankfurt Städelschule. The MMK has in its collection a number of outstanding works by West. Examples dating from this period, in some cases executed in cooperation with artists of Frankfurt, will be among the exhibition's highlights. By presenting installations such as the Wegener Rooms the title makes reference to both the Frankfurt gallery owner and the geoscientist Alfred Wegener the MMK show will introduce unique accents.
From the point of view of content, the comprehensive MMK presentation will centre around West's Combi Works, in which he united several very different individual pieces to create a whole. By combining and recombining various groups of works such as the so-called Adaptives, furniture, sculptures, videos and works on paper from all phases of the artist's career, the exhibition will provide a survey of the spectrum covered by his comprehensive oeuvre. These installations will also encompass works by artist-friends of West's, for example Heimo Zobernig, Herbert Brandl, Martin Kippenberger, Michelangelo Pistoletto or Andreas Reiter Raabe.
Franz West's working method was fundamentally based on participation. By actively involving the viewer as a user of his works, West changed traditional conceptions of artist and artwork. It is only when the viewer becomes part of the work for example by handling it or occupying it as sitting or lying surface that it is complete in the Westian sense. The perception of the work thus becomes a physical experience.
Everything we see could also be otherwise, Franz West remarked in 1988, quoting the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein whom he held in high esteem and thus addressing essential aspects of his own artistic approach. The principle of combination and recombination corresponds to the artist's conviction that the meaning of an utterance or a pictorial-linguistic element can never be permanently and unambiguously defined, but changes in keeping with its respective context and use.
In the early stages of his career, West was influenced by the material and body actions of Viennese Actionism, a movement he continued to explore all his life. He received his artistic training as a pupil of Bruno Gironcoli at the Viennese Akademie der bildenden Künste. His fame began to spread beyond the borders of Austria in the late eighties and the nineties; by the end of his life he was one of the most prominent sculptors in the European art scene. West's highly independent and enormously influential oeuvre defies assignment to any particular art current. At the 2011 Venice Biennale he was awarded the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement, the highest distinction attainable for a living artist.
The exhibition title chosen by the artist himself is a further example of his practice of combination and recombination. The point of departure was a gouache of 2004 depicting a woman putting on a pair of trousers which, following a successful diet, is much too big for her. By omitting the W, the artist transformed the title Lost Weight into Lost Eight, finally arriving at "Where is my eight? West leaves the question unanswered, thus preparing the ground for various new associations.