Franz West

Biography of Franz West

The groundbreaking sculptor Franz West is undoubtedly one of the most influential artists of our times—the bulging shapes and skewed forms of his sculptures could be provocative and amusing, though there was always an underlying sense of seriousness and unarticulated threat. Using a diverse range of materials West created vibrantly colored amorphous totems with the intention of altering their surroundings.


Inspired by the transgressive acts of the Viennese Actionists—whose desire to alter the viewer's traditional engagement with art had a huge influence on his subsequent work—Franz West strove to set up a new dialog between the viewer, the nature of art, and the viewer's relationship to it. However, what made West approach distinctive was his softening of the more aggressive tendencies of the Actionists, focusing more on interactivity in his work. The results were imposing but also lighthearted, the function and form of the works—rather than being mutually exclusive—were somehow in harmony. Famously West would say, "It doesn't matter what the art looks like but how it's used."


Born in 1947 Franz West did not start taking art seriously until he was 26. By the 1970s he began producing the small mixed media sculptures known as Adaptives (Passstücke) that would ultimately make him famous. These objects needed to held, worn, or performed by the viewer for them to be complete as artworks. Always mischievous and playful they made the wearer look both protected and trapped. Described as "prostheses" by West, the Adaptives were often abstract and suggestive of human form, but were also ambiguous enough to encompass a host of gestural associations. By the 80s the artist had expanded his practice to include furniture and installations that emphasized his continued interest in the relationship between the viewer's body and the artwork.


A mainstay of documenta and biennales from all over the world, West was awarded the prestigious Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement at the 54th Venice Biennale in 2011. He is featured in all major permanent collections around the world including the Centre Pompidou, Paris, MoMA, New York, and Museum Ludwig, Cologne. Franz West: Where is My Eight? Museum für Moderne Kunst, Frankfurt, 2013, traveled to Hepworth Wakefield, England in 2014. His exhibition To Build A House You Start with the Roof: Work, 1972-2008 was shown at the Baltimore Museum of Art in 2008 and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in 2009. The artist would nearly always design his own exhibition posters which he produced in form of silkscreen prints or graphics in series. He died in 2012.

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