'I came to art via the places where artists meet, places where you would go and sit' (West quoted in Fleck, p.8). Although West began his artistic practice with painting and collage in the 1970s, he is best known for sculpture and furniture-based installation work with a strong interactive or performative element. His Passstücke or Adaptives, begun in 1974, are small sculptural objects to be manipulated by the viewer. Often these are shown in installations which play on notions of display, inviting the viewer to change their positions from wall to plinth, or from one plinth to another. Abstract in form, small in scale, they are suggestive of bodies, yet are ambiguous enough to conjur up a range of possible gestural associations. West himself refers to them as prostheses or visual representations of neuroses. Their humble materials, typically papier maché or plaster, and rough-finished surfaces demonstrate West's hands-on approach in which art is part of the everyday. His work is informed by his reading of the psychoanalysis of Lacan and the philosophy of Wittgenstein and investigates the relationship between what we see and how we encounter it physically.
West's environments are dependent on the participation of the viewer to activate them. They are intended to reproduce an experience which is physical, visual, auditory and sensory, with the additional possibility of fulfilling a useful function, such as offering members of the public the opportunity to sit down and have a rest in the middle of a museum or art gallery. This results in the viewer himself inadvertently becoming a part of the artwork. For West, a piece of furniture, such as a couch, cannot merely be experienced by looking at it: 'The perception of art takes place through the pressure points that develop when you lie on it' (West quoted in Fleck, p.9). West's mother was a dentist and, as a child in Vienna, he remembers sitting in her waiting room which had art reproductions on the walls and music playing in the background. Viennoiserie reproduces this environment for the viewer by offering a place for waiting, thinking, and observing other individuals in the space. It comprises a couch for the viewer to sit on, flanked either side by white Passstück-like sculptures, one of which is on a table. Behind on the wall are displayed a range of two-dimensional works by artists Seamus Farrell, Richard Jackson, Roland Kollnitz, Joseph Kosuth, Paul McCarthy, Otto Mühl and Raymond Pettibon. Characteristic of West's installations, Viennoiserie operates in an in-between space, crossing media, forms and art-life boundaries. 'Best of all I like art in the streets; it doesn't demand that you make a special journey to see it, it's simply there. You don't even have to look at it - that is probably the ideal art.' (West quoted in Fleck, p.20)
Robert Fleck, Bice Curriger, Neal Benezra, Franz West, London 1999
Daniel Birnbaum, Franz West, exhibition catalogue, Rooseum, Malmö 1999
L. Cooke, J. Fernandes, Franz West, exhibition catalogue, Fundação de Serralves, Porto, Portugal 1997