Franz West (Vienna, 1947-2012) studied in Vienna in the early 1970s, at a time when the Austrian artistic panorama was dominated by the provocative actions of the Viennese Actionists (Wiener Aktionismus, whose exponents included Günter Brus, Otto Mühl, Hermann Nitsch and Rudolf Schwarzkogler), a group of artists who staged a series of highly controversial performances centered on themes of the body, sensuality and religion. Instead, West initially devoted himself to drawing and the creation of sculptures and installations with an intimate and almost unassuming atmosphere. In these works, West developed the themes of the body and active public participation through a formal vocabulary that absorbed the diversity of the materials and processes, introducing elements such as irony and attention to everyday objects.
His first series of works included the Passstücke (the so-called “Adaptives”, although the term literally translates as “fitting pieces”), which West produced as of 1974 in the form of sculptures made of papier-mâché, plaster and metal, colored white and with simple, familiar, albeit bizarre shapes. The spectator was invited to interact with these objects, handling the ergonomic forms and, in some cases, even wearing them. The abstract yet familiar appearance of these sculptures still triggers a form of ambiguity between reality and symbolism, thus highlighting the profound link that West’s art maintains with Dada and Surrealism, artistic movements that explored the intersection between the banality of objects, unconscious associations and the dimension of sensuality.
The need for a productive exchange between artist and spectator remains central in the work of West, even when his sculptures and installations do not imply any direct form of interaction between observer and object. Indeed, a fundamental aspect of his work is the connection between the artist’s creation and the interpretation of another individual, between contemplation and use. For this reason, in subsequent decades, the shapes and sizes of many of West’s works recall design products and interior furnishings.
The work in the collection, titled Prototyp der “Auditorium”- Diwane (DN 665), 1991, belongs to a larger series initiated in the 1980s, focused on the creation of sculptures in the form of chairs and sofas. Once again the spectator is invited to use these structures, which posses an even more familiar appearance than the Passstücke, therefore emphasizing the ambiguity between artwork and product. These works have often been incorporated into more complex installations, with the idea of inviting viewers to sit and contemplate other sculptures or installations. Prototyp der “Auditorium”, for example, was further developed in the subsequent installation created for Documenta IX in Kassel in 1992, where the artist made about 70 sofas set in an exterior space which, at night, was transformed into an open-air cinema. West – to whom Madre dedicated the extensive retrospective Auto-Theatre in 2010 – thus attained the fulfillment of a process that he had been seeking to put into practice with his sculptures ever since his beginnings. And he did so in the most genuine and spontaneous of ways, with the creation of a space for meditation, exchange and the active participation of individuals.