Austrian Wild West

Untitled (Franz West), Rudolf Stingel, 2010, ink, oil and enamel on paper

The Austrian Cultural Forum is hosting a new exhibit, Wild West, featuring the work of Austrian artist Franz West (1947-2012).   Rejecting formalism and fine art traditions, West used ordinary materials, such as plaster,  papier-mâché and aluminum to create his sculptures.  Influenced by performance-based art, he wasn’t interested in the final work so much as the idea of creating a dialogue between the viewers and objects in a given space. 

Since I wasn’t familiar with West’s work, I was delighted to attend a conversation with Andreas Reiter Raabe, the exhibit’s curator (and West collaborator), and Alison Gingeras, a curator and writer.  During their talk, a recurring theme was the collaborative nature of much of West’s art, including his decision to include other artists in his “solo shows.”  The exhibit continues in this vein – there are three pieces by West, with the rest by West’s New-York based contemporaries, as well as newly commissioned works by Austrian and New York artists.  There’s also a film about West (by Raabe), who seemed to delight in thumbing his nose at the establishment (in the film you’ll see the brightly colored phallic sculptures he used to replace the hood ornament on his Rolls Royce).  Here are some of my favorite works from the exhibit:

Untitled, Tillman Kaiser, 2016, cardboard

Tillman Kaiser was born in 1972 in Graz, Austria.  He now lives and works in Vienna.  I especially liked this work, composed of cardboard pieces with a series of…

detail from Untitled by Tillman Kaiser, 2017, cardboard

unrelated black & white images that are constantly rearranged one over/next to the other. It made me think of the houses we used to try to construct from playing cards.

Reconstructions/Symmetry Fragments, Rudolf Polanszky, 2009, mixed media (foil, mirror strips, aluminum and color on linen)

The Viennese Actionist and Post-Actionist artist Rudolf Polanszky worked alongside Franz West.  The images in his Reconstructions/Symmetry Fragments are not apparent the first time you look at the pieces (there are 2 in the show), but emerge slowly as your eyes move across the canvas.

Lemurenkopf, Franz West, 1987, papier-mâché and dispersion

According to one source I found, the title of this piece by Franz West, Lemurenkopf or “lemur heads” is derived from a common Viennese phrase, and means to wake up with a hangover after a festive night of drinking and seeing “Lemuren”, or zombies. I may need to go to Vienna and verify this personally.

Fleur Mal, Franz West & Andreas Reiter Raabe, 2012, LED lamp, papier-mâché, cardboard, acrylic and metal chain

In the lobby of the Austrian Cultural Forum you’ll find these two fun sculptures by Franz West and Andreas Reiter Raabe.  If you stand below them and clap your hands or stamp your feet, the lights will blink and change color!  

Wild West will be on until January 22nd, 2018.   The Austrian Cultural Forum is located at 11 East 52nd Street.

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