Vienna was never to be a focus of the modern art world after 1945. Nevertheless, between 1965 and 1975 there was a markedly energetic art climate in the Austrian capital largely thanks to the often provocative, body-related performances of Viennese Actionists like Gunther Brus and Hermann Nitsch. Franz West was not particularly drawn to the theatrical aspect of their art, though he has always been interested in its performance aspect, which he uses in his own work. With West it is not the artist himself who is actively engaged, but the audience. His sculptures are inconceivable without the physical involvement of other people: the pieces are aimed at provoking, activating and pleasing the human body. In the 1970s West motivated public interaction with his Pass-stücke (Adaptives) – small, handy-sized sculptures made from papier marché and plaster without any defined form or function. The public was allowed to pick them up and use them as they saw fit. As sports equipment, a piece of jewellery, a prosthesis or erotic sex aid; the sculpture never conformed entirely to the user’s wishes. More important was the fact that the user became directly aware of the enjoyable and non-enjoyable physical aspect of the amorphous sculptures.
Since the mid-1980s West has made furniture sculptures which, combined with a rear wall or standing on a plinth and shown in a gallery or museum, compete with the autonomous art works nearby. Or, as West compactly says, “When you’ve looked at all those things in the museum and you start to feel quite uncom¬fortable, then you can sit or lie down”. A resistance towards thinking conventionally about art and how you handle it is a driving force behind his work. West explores the humanities – cutting and pasting together theories and philosophies into his own personal way of thinking. This anti-analytical way of working may be seen as a continuation of the earlier expressionist tendency in Austrian art among artists like Egon Schiele and Oskar Kokoschka.

In 1992 for Documents IX West placed over seventy divans made from plain steel and covered with pieces of foam rubber and Persian carpets in an open space. Very quickly the square became the spot to see and be seen in. During the evenings it was an open-air cinema. Not everyone would have known the divans were part of an artist’s contribution to the exhibition. Thus West firmly sets himself apart from the modernist thinking about sculpture, which is aimed at autonomy, geometric abstraction and industrial materials. He regards this viewpoint as the norm for outdoor sculpture and sees Richard Serra – with his work on a monumental scale and with several elements – as its most important exponent. West’s more informal sculpture, with its appeal to the body and user function, is more characteristic of a trend in the 1990s that was also apparent in the work of young artists like Tobias Rehberger, Joep van Lieshout, Jorge Pardo and Olaffur Eliasson.

During the summer of 2000 in a park near Innsbruck, West exhib¬ited a series of coloured aluminium Sitzwuste – a term the artist made up, the sound of which is strikingly similar to the German word Wurst or sausage. With their artificial, almost venomous-looking colours – evenly applied with spray paint – the ‘sausages’ contrast sharply against the greenery like brightly coloured flowers. They lie in long rows along the edge of the wood and the lawns. The ‘sausage seatings’ were eagerly utilized by visitors as a meeting point and as something to lean against or sit on A park is often regarded as the most ideal public space for a piece of sculpture since its surroundings come closest to approaching the quietness of a museum space. West’s sculptures not only embellish the park visually but, more especially, also functionally. Compared to the Divans at Documents IX the Sitzwuste are visually more plastic due to their apparent chaotically arranged and dented parts. In this way they approach the boundary between autonomous sculptures and functional objects in a more subtle manner.

Initially, the International Sculpture Collection Committee in Rotterdam decided to purchase some of the Sitzwuste exhibited in the Innsbruck park. However, when the artist came to Rotterdam to discuss the purchase he was so taken with the proposed location – the incline along the canal of Westersingel where there are several bars and cafes – that he decided to make five new ones, custom made. West has replaced the bright colours of the Innsbruck sausage seating with pastel shades, which go well with the light-coloured walls of the buildings along Eendrachtsweg. The title of the work has been changed to Qwertz, taken from the first six letters on the upper left of a German keyboard. The five pastel-coloured, pod-like forms of Qwertz lie invitingly in the grass between the tramline and the water of Westersingel. They are arranged individually in three rows, like stands for a spectacle that has yet to begin. Qwertz provides the backdrop for human interaction – a relaxed meeting point for a large city, brought to life by the activities of the general public.

Mariette Dölle

Fleck, R. et al., Franz West, Londen 1999. / tent. cat. Franz West, Antwerpen (Openluchtmuseum voor Beeldhouwkunst Middelheim) 1998. / tent. cat. Franz West, Die Aluskulptur: Skulptul.

Publicatiedatum: 12/05/2015