Franz West

If denunciation is transgressive, the same can be said of happiness. In these two exhibitions, Franz West expressed a desire for happiness that has seemingly been forgotten in our era. At the Pieroni gallery this feature seemed explicit in the large sofa upon which an old carpet was spread out, hiding the usual metal structure with which West creates his “functional objects.” The work evoked memories of the “western-eastern divan” of Goethe, or Freud’s sofa at Berggasse 19, along with the feeling of the East elicited by antique Russian carpets. This emphasis is connected to contemporary political themes, but here it constituted a tip of the hat toward Dimitri Prigov, whose work was also being shown. Gallery visitors sat on the sofa to chat and to listen to the reading that Prigov gave to accompany his work. Thus West’s object took on the symbolic value of an homage to the traditions of the host, and allowed viewers to appreciate the work in a manner directly tied to communication.

The exhibit in Turin was also characterized by a desire to involve viewers. In fact, the day of the opening, West, working in the presence of gallery goers, painted one of the sculptures, inspiring some of the spectators to participate. The central core of the show consisted of ten sculptures that rested on white pedestals, about 40 inches high and 20 inches wide. The sculptures are an amalgam of papier-mâché and paint, here and there bandaged in gauze. They evoke the magma of a natural material, just torn from the earth, still wet with color. The violet, green, rosy, bright yellow, and red tones recall the brightness and tones of the woods. The expressionistic pathos defers to the communicative energy of the gesture that shapes the piece. Hence, the informal sign is placed in contact with the dynamic nature of the relationship between sculpted object and base. Investigating the relationship between painting and sculpture, West animates that lesson of Brancusi, where the pedestal becomes the element that allows one to see the complex unity of the third dimension.

West approaches this problem with subtlety, without ideology, and with great precision. His renewal of a relationship to history through the work’s emotional impact has results: the ten shaped forms give equal emphasis to the dialogue between sculpture and pedestal. The wood bases of the three sculptures shown in the entryway have regular contours and are painted white in anonymous fashion. They bring out the diverse ways one element can be linked to another: one of the sculptures rests directly on its pedestal, the other two are separated from the base by a small iron slab and pin. In the other seven pieces, the pedestal participates directly in the form that it supports. Some are made of wrapping paper, barely disguised with transparent brushstrokes; others are made out of cardboard, with soft and irregular edges. The thick white paint either gives the work substance and form, or, through the color’s porosity, allows one to glimpse the gauze that wraps and protects the sculpture.

These images renounce the rigidity of the sacred and come to symbolize a profane, emotional corporeality. This is an aspect that we can also recognize, for example, in the subtle iron armchair that seems to set up a dialogue with the three shapes—one yellow, one red, one gray—that tower over the cardboard pedestals. In another room, the stele is coupled with a large curved box, a sort of windbreaker; it is completely surrounded by the colors that surface from the impasto of canvas and glue, giving this piece a sculptural independence. Here too, the gesture that shapes and paints becomes an offering of happiness.

Francesca Pasini

Translated from the Italian by Marguerite Shore.