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1000 WORDS: FRANZ WEST

Listening to the Viennese artist Franz West speak about the viewer’s relation to the art object, I was instantly taken back to an unpleasant experience I had as a boy in Vienna. As I was trying to get a closer look at a painting in the Kunsthistorisches Museum (I think it was a Brueghel), a stentorian voice came out of nowhere: Step back! Obviously, museums all over the world have to keep visitors from touching the objects, but nowhere is the method as frightening as in Vienna. Since West’s art is all about touching the works, I can’t help but see it as a reaction to these scary Viennese museum attendants. It’s as though West were the anti–museum guard, whispering Come closer! Grab this work of art!

Much of what’s interesting in Viennese culture—from the Aktionisten to Thomas Bernhard—seems to have come out of a violent reaction to institutions, whether the church, university, or state.

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