“The failings of the body were never lost on Franz,” Walker chief curator Darsie Alexander wrote in late July in remembrance of Vienna-based artist Franz West, who passed away July 25. “He devoted much of his career to thinking about the oddities and wonder of the physical realm. How people walk, interact, make love, snore in public, and do other intimately human and occasionally embarrassing things was a theme in much of his art.”
How we use our bodies — particularly how and where we sit — was a key interest for West, and one of the motivating ideas behind Sitzwuste, the Walker’s trio of metal sculptural benches, which Alexander has called West’s “ode to the human ass.” Alexander, who curated a 2008 West retrospective at the Baltimore Museum of Art, discussed West’s life and art with Modern Art Notes‘ Tyler Green on this week’s MAN Podcast. A wide-ranging interview, it covers West’s love of “deafeningly loud electronic music,” the Segway West used late in his life to “zoom around the studio,” the Viennese Actionists, the highly social (if, at times, chaotic) nature of West’s creative life, and his sculptural Adaptives.
And, yes, sitting figured heavily.
Green quoted his favorite passage from Alexander’s catalogue essay for Franz West, To Build a House You Start with the Roof: Work, 1972–2008: “Sitting had always played an important part of West’ s understanding of art and daily life.”
Asked how, Alexander replied:
Franz was keenly attuned to human behavior of all kinds, and the things we do in the course of everyday life—gestures we make when we pick up the telephone, when we are cooking or strumming guitar, and, of course, many of us spend a lot of time sitting… Franz had a really bad knee by the time I met him, so there were always problems with walking… He spent a lot of his time sitting, being on his posterior. He made sittable sculptures. He started doing this in the mid-1980s, he started to make these things you’d sit on. They were out of welded metal and quite—actually—uncomfortable to sit on. So the idea was you’d put yourself in the gallery space on these lounges. In a traditional museum environment you sit down when you want to take a break or step back from the process of looking. Well, he put these metal sitting couches on pedestals, so in order for people to relax and sit down they actually had to put themselves on view. So there was always a two-sided facet to the participatory nature of his work. But once he introduced the idea of sitting and relaxing and distraction and boredom—he was always interested not just in the high moments of thought and enlightenment and creating, but also those low moments of fatigue and ennui. The stuff we experience in the course of everyday life, he wanted to bring that into the art environment.
Franz West, Sitzwuste, 2000. Collection: Walker Art Center