Northern Soul’s Rich Jevons talks to The Hepworth Wakefield curator Dr Sam Lackey about a major exhibition of works by Franz West, initiated and co-developed with the artist before his death in July 2012.
Northern Soul: Could you explain the importance of Franz West’s work?
Sam Lackey: Franz West is one of the most prominent artists of our time and achieved worldwide fame with his Passstücke [Adaptives], his furniture, as well as his sculptures for interior and exterior spaces. He is highly influential for initiating a new form of participation between the artwork and the spectator. Like many artists working in the 60s and 70s he sought to undo the value systems that exist around a work of art.
NS: What is the idea behind the combination pieces with works in different configurations?
SL: Over his life West developed a concept of aggregating or combining several works. He would combine his own work with work by other artists into larger works. West not only created new works composed of elements from the same period, he also combined pieces from different periods of his career. He then often dismantled such combinations and recombined the pieces into another new work. This process meant that the meaning and life span of a work was limitless and that ideas of creative ownership were exploded.
NS: Why have you set up the semi-living room environment with West’s furniture and videos?
SL: The work Synchronie with furniture, videos and works was devised by West as a total work of art. The chairs were originally intended as a form of adaptive, a way of changing your body and experience by interacting/sitting in them.
NS: Can you show the importance of interaction to West and give give examples of audience reactions to the Adaptives?
SL: Interaction is crucial to West’s work. He claimed that he the artist was responsible for 50 per cent of the work and then the viewer is responsible for the last 50 per cent. People respond differently – when he first showed the adaptives people were shy about using them. Later in his career he worked with professional dancers who used them completely.
NS: How did West fit into the Viennese art scene?
SL: When he was growing up, West’s brother was part of the Viennese art scene and invited Franz to events such as Actionist Performances. Later, he hung around in Viennese cafes and discos with artists long before he actually started a practice of his own.
NS: What connections have you made between West and Hepworth (clearly the use of plaster for one thing and the holes too)?
SL: The use of plaster is a connection, and the fact that Hepworth’s plaster prototypes could be easily changed or manipulated when working in this material, so like West’s work they are far more open. We were also interested in the relationship between the body and the sculpture – there are many photographs where Barbara Hepworth positions herself in her sculpture as if it were an adaptive.
NS: West’s colourism is extremely garish. Is this a deliberate statement?
SL: West always said that he wasn’t a great colourist but of course this isn’t true. It is said that the pink he uses is based on two childhood memories: the pink of gums (his mother was a dentist) and the pink of his mother’s underwear (he read a lot of Freud).
Main image: Franz West, Parrhesia, 2010. Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Humlebæk. © Gabriel Szabo / Guzelian and the legal successors of Franz West. Image courtesy of The Hepworth Wakefield.
Franz West’s Where is My Eight runs at The Hepworth Wakefield until September 14, 2014. For more info click here.