Franz West is a funny sex obsessed genius and I think I love him. There is a show of his work at the Tate Modern until 2nd June and a joyous experience but as you can see from some of the figures captured in the above vitrines there are elements of it that are not safe for work. There are several pieces that are either very phallic or just explicit depictions of sex. It is so absurdly presented though as to not have any sexual charge, but just to highlight how ludicrous the whole exercise can be. It is a shame he is dead. I would like to have met him.
There are at various junctures throughout the show what appear to be posters from past exhibitions of Mr West as you can see in both the above pictures. They often have a sexual theme, as indeed do his collage like pictures with figures stuck on odd backgrounds in an often child like way, that clashes viscerally with the subject matter.
Long worm like tubular things are another feature. Indeed there is a selection of inflatable ones outside the museum itself, by the South Entrance. Others like the bright blue one above right appear to be made of plaster, and resemble some anemic bowl, or enormous worm. West has at various times done installations and some of these are displayed by photographs, in the case of the one above left very large photographs with these beguiling crystalline type structures arrange on what appear to be school tables in front of it. I really liked them. The pigment was deeper than you might expect and they had a distinct amethyst like quality.
Much of the work on display made me smile but one work, these four enormous plaster heads (above left) actually made me laugh out loud. The curator has worked well here in that you round that concrete like divider you can see behind them, and suddenly there they are, like some Easter Island barber shop quartet. They do seem to be singing.
Arranged in the large space in front of them are a series of sofas draped in rugs and bolsters from which you can sit, and regard a very large photo of an egg like object while two tv screens, which flank the egg, play strange and baffling videos at you. West's video art is the weakest of his elements to me, but I have a low tolerance for that particular medium.
I have mentioned previously the cement textured partitions. The normal white temporary walls have been stripped away so you have quite a large cavernous space, divided up by the cement partitions. They really complement the style of the work, and make more intimate yet open, yet yeti like spaces. Good decision. It also means that like with the heads not everything can be seen from any one point allowing you to stumble on, and discover the various artefacts. Like for example the metal furniture (above left), with the hammered together love seat being a particular favourite.
Or these painted lumps of concrete or third eye like pieces of wood (above right).
The overwhelming sensation is of fun though, quite well typified by the over-large golden paperclip (above left). Others like the collection of seemingly random collection of assemblage which are one of the main focal points of the show (above right) provoke more mixed emotions of which bafflement is among the most prevalent. What is that? Well I don't think it matters frankly.
At one end of room is a series, of well they look like cells. Arranged in a quadrant The details are different but the general set up is the same, a chair (of uncertain construction, a sculpture of differing levels of phallicness and an innocuous and incongruous picture (above left).
In one corner is what looks like a distressed, ney even alarmed, makeup table (above right). The hole in the middle I think is for your head. This is the great shame of art once it reaches a certain stage of "importance". This pieces was supposed to be used but is now to fragile to be used. I had the same feeling with some of Alexander Calder's immobile mobiles. These thing are made to be used even to destruction. Things have to end. That's my view anyway.
On closer inspection that row of sculptures pictured previously has more of the crusty mineralaty of the other works, or you know, is a banana. I am working backwards through the show. In the corridor on the way in a three what look like changing rooms. The curators have produced copies of some of West's pieces and you can go into these booths and interact with them. I am of course far to British to do so. The faux privacy of it all made it seem shameful and weird, not that I would have done it anyway. I slightly regret that.
Opposite those booths are a selection of cabinets with the original objects, or if not those then ones very similar to them (above right). You see the beginnings of that graininess, that becomes encrusted in the later sculptures. There are also a number odd paintings, wash textured colours with figures in odd poses. Often pasted over the top (above left)
I like these paintings there are some odd things going on, I am still not sure what this guy in this adobe looking surrounding is doing (above left). They also feature the artist and his friends messing about with the odd, organic objects (above right).
Which leads us right back to the original room. This show starts strong. On the right hand road as you come in is a grid of small charcoal paintings. They are amusing intriguing and even sweet (above).
Some of them are just sweeping shapes like this curved piano keyboard (above left), or lonely figures like this lonely man walking through a brick lined tunnel (above centre), or poignant or silly depending on how you look at it like this figure dancing with the rows (above right). Masterful simplicity.
Opposite these are these almost cartoonish drawings either in colour (above left) or black on an orange background (above red). Again you have the absurdist coupled with the sexual. Its a fun show, there is a lot of space there and not many people. You can hang out there quietly and just enjoy yourself.
Speaking of enjoying yourself, I have my own small show running over the Easter weekend in Henley-on-Thames. Come along.
William John Mackenzie
I am an artist with a specialism in landscapes and still life. My contact details are here.