Door 8: Franz West

Franz West in his studio in Vienna, 1995 © Estate Franz West © Archiv Franz West, courtesy David Zwirner

There are multitude of approaches towards making art. Some are of the opinion, one has to work for one's inspiration, others think that it will come on its own. An example of the second group is the Austrian artist Franz West, who described himself as lazy. In his own words, he said: "I've always thought the ideal is to do nothing and still be able to make a living out of it".

He was born in 1947 in Vienna, where he also lived his entire life, to a coal dealer father and a dentist mother. His "laziness" showed as he did not start to start to study art seriously until his late twenties and then studied at the University of Applied Arts in Vienna from 1977 until 1982.

As he was exposed to the Actionist and Performance Art of the 1960s and 70s, his initial work developed as a reaction to it. From the 70s he worked with simple materials like papiermache, old flip-flops, cardboard tubes, a pile of hats, his own childhood bed and his mother’s old washing machine. Later on he started to also work with large-scale aluminum pieces.

Otto Kobalek with Adaptive by Franz West, 1974. Photography © Friedl Kubelka

His Passstücke, initially translated as fitting pieces, but West preferred the word adaptives, were papier-mâché pieces made to be picked up and moved. As they were his first pieces that demanded visitors participation, they signify an important turning point in the relationship between art and its audience, but also West's career

Courtesy of Franz West Privatstiftung © Archiv Franz West.

At the end of the 80s and beginning of the 90s international interest in West's work increased and he showed at the Austrian pavilion in 1991 but won the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement at the Venice Biennale in 2011. Also his installation of his typical sofas at documenta IX in 1992 helped cementing his international reputation.

Next to his regular demand for visitor's participation he frequently collaborated  with other artists like Douglas Gordon, Sarah Lucas, Herbert Brandl, Bernhard Cella and Tamuna Sirbiladze. The latter became his wife in 2002 and they had two children together. Despite calling himself lazy, he had a vast output covering various fieldds of art. His work can be described as ironic, irreverent, but still profoundly philosophical.