Los Angeles

Franz West

The Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA)

Some of us have a phobia of couches—of the small larvae, germs, and imprints of past sitters that occupy their dense and foam-filled folds. We sit lightly, carefully, lest a cloud of skin cells gust up to envelop our sinking buttocks. It is ill-advised to sit naked on someone else’s stuffed furniture.

A bevy of brilliantly colored couches in MoCA’s outdoor plaza comprised Test, 1994, Franz West’s first site-specific museum installation in the U.S. A similar set of furniture installed at Documenta was covered in drab carpets. The 28 couches installed here are festive, bright, and clashing. Along with Gilbert Brettenbauer (who designed and fabricated the covers), West visited the garment district and chose fabrics that reflected a loopy cross-section of Los Angeles. The patchwork slipcovers and bolsters were haphazardly sewn from African prints, prom-dress satin, and funfair fake fur. Silky florals from mom’s closet butted up against primitive cave-design chintz and colorful velour flowed into drab-brown cotton.

West has often demanded a high degree of viewer participation. While in the past the uninitiated may have needed to be shown how to interact with the work, the couches are self-explanatory. They are more familiar to the average viewer than his strange looking papier-mâché objects that want you to dance with them. Use these couches as you might if they were in someone’s home, but choose your poison carefully. Will you recline upon what appears to be a urine stain or its anal equivalent? Probably just chocolate from the Felix Gonzalez-Torres piece downstairs or perhaps some spilled Evian, but bothersome nonetheless. You never really know. Though Test is shrouded with tarps by night, incontinence can happen even during the day.

Think about the urban site, but not too much. Enjoy the sunshine and consider the other sitting spaces nearby. The uncomfortable marble slabs are unoccupied today. Washable metal seats are also empty. Los Angeles benches traditionally discourage loitering, but Test is full of art enthusiasts wearing designer sunglasses and chatting nonstop. They converse among themselves about dead ends and mazes and Austrian artists who fill their austere stone plazas with coziness and color. It is taboo to speak about the homeless, though this site seemingly should be as much for them as for anyone else. It is impolite to ask whether they stay away because they are told to or because, perhaps, these couches are not quite so comfortable after all. In MoCA’s newsletter, West is quoted as having said that the ideal viewer would “stay for the entire exhibition,” but, between the night-time tarps and the day guards, this is impossible.

Join the spectacle and your clothes become camouflage. Revel in the joys of clownish pageantry. Enjoy the crisp colors as they vibrate in the always brilliant sunshine. Do not be afraid to let your wandering hand linger on the fabrics—tingling fingertips roam from silk to fur to velvet and back again.

Gingerly, place your posterior on the most pristine of the divans. Hold your breath, sink into the artwork. Hop on a psychedelic bandwagon with spindly rebar legs and 28 separate units. Adjust to the initial shock of actually committing your rump to the ruckus, remove your shoes and bask in the sunshine.

Lisa Anne Auerbach