Combining elements of painting, sculpture and installation, Untitled 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 an iron base, the work exudes elegance and dynamism, emphasized by the twirled shape of the axis. With its lumpy, granular and apparently inchoate surface, Untitled 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, Untitled recalls West’s celebrated 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.
Created toward the end of his life, the mysterious and playful forms of the present work invite further investigation and contemplation while maintaining the friendliness and viewer interaction which characterizes West’s oeuvre. The present work vibrates with the spirit of the avant-garde without drowning in it, in turn rejecting and embracing object-based art practices. The filaments of post-war European art can be traced throughout his work from the lengthy figures of Alberto Giacometti, to Dieter Roth’s objects, and the plaster surfaces of Jean Fautrier. With his enthusiastic scale and friendliness, Franz West sets aside the trap of static abstraction with brightly-colored structures such as the present work, which command and animate their environment.