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Franz West review

Art Tate Modern , South Bank Until Sunday June 2 2019
4 out of 5 stars
Franz West review
© Franz West Privatstiftung

Franz West took all the stuffy, conservative formality of the art world and told everyone where to shove it. The austere reverence of the gallery, the contemplative deification of the artist: West just couldn’t be arsed with it.

Instead, the anarchic Austrian artist (1947-2012) created a body of work that’s playful and ludicrous, that feels like one drink too many in a Viennese bar, the art equivalent of a hangover you somehow don’t regret.

From the start, he was a bit of a bastard. Early drawings find him mocking the actionists, a dour group of older Viennese artists, and making collages out of porn mags.

His ‘Passstücke’ (or 'Adaptives') sculptures were his first real innovation: bendy, curving works you’re meant to pick up and play with, turn into hats or spears or whatever. Frustratingly, most are too fragile to handle now, but a couple of steel ones are set aside for you to swing about or dance with, making you part of the artwork, conceptually and physically.

Even when he moves on to his ‘Legitimate’ sculptures – works displayed on plinths – he’s still taking the piss, blowing raspberries at traditional ways of showing sculptures, at the seriousness of the art world. His furniture works push it even further, becoming places to recline and be lazy, because even lazy people can be artists.

His big sculptures, many of which are plonked outside, are the biggest up yours of all. Each colourful, twisting shape makes a joyful mockery of sour-faced public art.

Which is where the problem lies. By roping off most of the work, the curators have turned West’s objects from things to play with, or that trigger thoughts, into historical trinkets of worship. It just lacks the fun you feel West would have been desperate for in a show like this.

And Franz West seems like he was a lot of fun. A drunken imbecile with a million brilliant ideas. It’s all booze and papier-mâché and philosophy, and this show does a great job of dropping you into his life. You emerge into the daylight, bleary-eyed and heavy-headed, but knowing you just had the time of your life.


Venue name: Tate Modern
Address: Bankside
Opening hours: Mon-Thu, Sat, Sun 10am-6pm; Fri 10am-10pm (last adm 45 mins before closing)
Transport: Tube: Southwark/Blackfriars
Static map showing venue location
    • Tate Modern
    • Tate Modern
    • Tate Modern
    • Tate Modern
    • Tate Modern
    • Tate Modern
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