‘As a body, you stand or walk around the sculpture. It is almost equivalent to your own corporeality, to taking up space in one’s own three-dimensionality in a defined art space. As far as sculpture is concerned, the viewer is more or less obliged to engage in movement’ (F. West, quoted in R. Fleck, B. Curiger and N. Benezra, Franz West, London 1999, pp. 8-9).
Combining elements of painting, sculpture and installation, Nippes (2003) is an outstanding testament to Franz West’s distinctive and multifarious practice. Made of papier-mâché and acrylic paint, the present work displays a highly textural surface with indented edges. The amorphous mass is coated with multi-chromatic striations of acrylic paint that the artist dripped directly on the papier mâché structure. Throughout his practice, West has employed this medium extensively – as he explained, ‘I have been working in papier-mâché for many years. I came to this material because it’s cheap and easy to use. You can make it at home without too many complications. It doesn’t bleed. It doesn’t stink. And you can live with it without being afraid’ (F. West, quoted in D. Alexander, Franz West, To Build a House You Start with the Roof: Work, 1972-2008, exh. cat., The Baltimore Museum of Art, Baltimore, 2008). Placed on top of a curvilinear iron base, the work exudes elegance and dynamism, emphasised by the twirled shape of the axis. With its lumpy, granular and apparently inchoate surface, Nippes invites the viewer to reach out and touch it, thus subverting the idea that art is ‘untouchable and sacrosanct’ (F. West and D. Birnbaum, ‘A thousand words: Franz West’, Artforum, New York, February 1999, p.84). Designed to be manipulated to reveal its densely layered surface, Nippes recalls West’s Paßstück (‘Fitting Pieces’): a series of small scale papier-mâché works, assembled from found materials that demonstrate his understanding that art is part of the everyday. Such works express the artist’s intention to release the aesthetic experience from pre-established rules. Referring to this concept, in Nippes West challenges the nature of the sculpture by investigating the relationship with the supporting pedestal. Throughout the history of art, plinths have been used to elevate objects to an artistic status. In this piece West recalls this motif, subverting it with his distinctive wit. Indeed, a closer inspection reveals that the surface of the pedestal is raw and unpolished just like the exterior of the shape placed on its top: for West the plinth is an essential constituent of the sculpture. In this way Nippes is only and eventually completed in participation with the viewer.