Upon entering an exhibition or gallery, we are most commonly confronted with a sign reminding us ‘Do Not Touch’, an instruction which has become the norm when appreciating art, sculpture and artefacts with historical significance. For one artist, however, this is not the case. Franz West turned the relationship between art and audience on its head, with his abstract sculpture and large-scale works designed to be picked up, moved and handled by visitors. Born in Austria in 1947, West has been described as bringing ‘a punk aesthetic into the pristine spaces of art galleries. 

This year, London’s Tate Modern presents the first posthumous retrospective of West’s work, in collaboration with the Centre Pompidou. Comprised of 200 works including sculpture, furniture and collage, this unique exhibition provides a rare opportunity to delve deep into the creative mind of a significantly influential artist. The exhibition will show two works from his early series of abstract sculptures, Passstücke (Adaptives) which were designed to be touched, worn and manipulated by the public. Visitors to the exhibition will be able to handle four pieces from the series. West was renowned for applying philosophical and psychoanalytic theories to his work, best illustrated by his work in the mid-1980s and early 90s, which included text to provoke conversation with the viewer. Often described as ‘direct, crude and unpretentious’, West’s large scale works and poster designs illustrate his wide range of creative disciplines. A long-time collaborator with other artists, musicians, writers and photographers, West’s friend and collaborator Sarah Lucas has been an integral part of the exhibition design. 

Franz West is at Tate Modern, London until 2nd June 2019. 

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