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Michèle Lamy on Franz West at David Zwirner, Paris
Photography by Adam Katz Sinding
Words by Dan Thawley
Just over a decade ago, the Austrian artist Franz West (1947-2012) passed away leaving a legacy of performative sculptures, humorous collages, and organic-industrial furnishings that together reflect a deeply avant-garde worldview sprung from the strange, volatile environs of post-war Vienna. His palette of fleshy hues and cold, naive pastels, the draw of exaggerated material imperfection and an obsessive sense of interfacing between his works and the viewer are all hallmarks of his creations that constantly question the relationship between people and objects.
Showing through mid-April at David Zwirner’s galleries in Paris and New York, a sprawling survey of West’s output in diverse mediums is a jolting reminder of both the breadth and the contemporaneity of the artist’s vision. West not only anticipated the increasingly convergent worlds of fine art and collectible design, but established a basis for transmission and interpretation through his ongoing exploration of Passstücke or Adaptives. His predominantly hand-held sculptures with readymade elements provoke all sorts of (often absurd) actions and remain – not unlike the participatory installations of Felix Gonzales-Torres – some of the few artworks that invite users to touch and play in an institutional or gallery setting.
In an exclusive photo portfolio for A Magazine Curated By, the entrepreneurial doyenne of fashion, art and design Michèle Lamy discovers West’s show in Paris, expressing a decades-long fascination and kinship with the artist’s work.
“It’s so strong, it’s so attractive. I fell in love with it a long time ago,” said Lamy, speaking inside the Paris exhibition in its opening week, days after her husband Rick Owens’ Autumn Winter 2023 women’s show at the Palais de Tokyo across town. “I knew the work from afar for a long time, and I followed his career but it wasn’t easy to know the work well, as I didn’t see a lot of it before his death. I saw pieces at PS1 in NYC in 1989, and then I saw his work in Documenta. It was around the time that Rick and I came back to live in Paris and we started our own furniture project. There is a lot we can say about every angle of his work. There are things you could take seriously, and then there are others that are like an amazing pied de nez – a snub to the art world.”
Lamy’s wry summary of West’s opus touches upon a curation of adaptive works set on plinths in the gallery’s main atrium: plastery white relics with handles, legs and weights whose utility reveals itself upon closer inspection. Amongst them is a mask, a screen, a bottle-holder and a small chair. Others evade classification like Maulschelle [Face Slap] (c. 1979-80), a white disc on a stem whose name reveals its devilish purpose whilst its form does not. “I’m so happy to see some of these pieces again,” said Lamy, “Some of the smaller sculptures look like objects that don’t really exist. But it’s the collages and drawings on paper that I had never seen before. That was a part of his world that was very unknown to me. I think the collages feel like early moments of internet culture. And I like that you have his chairs and a monumental sculpture: it paints a picture of his studio, and it looks like chaos. But it makes so much sense. And even in the gallery you have this feeling of his studio where a lot of things were happening at the same time. I think when I see this show, that all the interior designers should retire!”
“I find it happy, there is really happiness in the work, but it is the happiness of somebody who has a lot of torment,” she continued, sipping blue curaçao and tea after posing with a white Passstücke in each hand, gingerly manipulating the weighted sculptures whilst herself teetering on a pair of Owens’ black leather platform boots that insulate her tanned limbs like a pair of quilted punching bags. Earlier, the boots came off to honour West’s instructions for Curaçao (1996), a raised bench and bird-like blue liquor dispenser, that comes with a caveat that its sitter remove at the very least their shoes, if not disrobe completely before enjoying a glass of the sweet liquor on its bench.
“The Passstücke are like a frozen performance,” she said. “When people talk about ‘sculpture’ it’s usually a commentary on the past yet this is about material: it’s all cracked, it’s everything we love. It’s about colours and ideas, it makes you want to live with it – it would be very easy to live with these pieces. They are so sophisticated his colours. They are powdery. There’s nothing first degree about them. And the layering that he does – to me, there is no hidden intention in the work, nothing besides what you see in front of you. The technique he used is just there because he invented it. He was just making things to see what happens, to see how an object takes form, how it comes to life.”
Franz West runs through April 13 at David Zwirner, 108 Rue Vieille du Temple, 75003 Paris.
Franz West: Echolalia runs through April 15 at David Zwirner, 533 West 19th Street, New York.
Photography by Adam Katz Sinding
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