Franz West - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale London Wednesday, June 26, 2019 | Phillips
  • Provenance

    Gagosian Gallery, London
    Acquired from the above by the present owner

  • Catalogue Essay

    I used to hope that my art would be a scream. On the contrary, it was like a blossom.
    —Franz West

    A monumental work of rock-like stature, interspersed with varying tones of yellow and splashes of blue, Untitled, 2007, lies at the heart of Franz West’s radical oeuvre. Seeking discreet contemplation, the work’s mottled yellow papier-mâché surface – akin to a geological formation or an archaeological specimen – resists simple visual comprehension and exemplifies West’s capacity to destabilise the alleged ‘untouchable and sacrosanct’ facets of artistic production (Daniel Birnbaum, ‘A thousand words: Franz West’, Artforum, New York, February 1999, p. 84). Consistently eschewing conventional notions of perception, and characterised by intense tactility, West’s opus raises questions on the relationship between how an object is seen, and how it is physically encountered.

    Coming of age in the 1960s, amidst the provocative and extreme interventions of the Viennese Actionists, West responded with a subtler, psychological artistic investigation. Departing from the Actionists’ oppressive narrative, the artist forged his own creative revolution, giving form and meaning to the crude and the trivial. Leaving behind the smooth, carefully proportioned and often geometric forms associated with modern sculpture, West initiated a new path for the artistic tradition. He reversed the impulse of his earlier work, notably his impressionable Paßstücke (adaptives), and began creating unmovable objects of which the state of fragility and flux continued to reject the notion that sculpture was a fixed entity in its own artistic realm. Exemplary of this artistic impulse, the present work bridges the gap between West’s handheld Paßstücke and his large-scale, tubular, globular, and colourful aluminium sculptures. Combining high and low culture, and traversing the line between sculpture, performance and collage, West created works that were considered highly subversive and rebellious in the 1980s, until reaching international acclaim a decade later and being hailed as prime museum and gallery art.

    Heavily influenced by Austrian philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein and his theories about the insignificance of language, West’s creative practice takes Wittgenstein’s example of meaninglessness and randomness and translates it to three-dimensional space. Rejecting a singular reading, the present work encourages the active participation of the viewer, akin to Wittgenstein’s interpretation of the word and language as source for infinite meaning. Unlike West’s Paßstücke, Untitled cannot be picked up and manipulated to the human form, however, the immense volume, varying textural tones and irregular contours of its structure indeed demand renewed interaction.

    An anti-sculpture of sorts, Untitled’s contorted, rough form varies according to the viewer’s movements. As he positions the rock-like form atop a pedestal, West adroitly harnesses the object’s liminal status, hovering between geological nature and the realm of traditional sculpture. Exemplary of West’s sardonic humour, Untitled addresses the in-between nature of sculpture as static art. Contrary to the prevailing artistic tendency to deal with the sensibility of profound expression, West’s brash, humorous approach is reminiscent of Claes Oldenburg’s impetuous early constructions. Echoing the American sculptor’s concern that the meaning found within his work ‘will remain doubtful and inconsistent’, West’s Untitled equally resists immediate assimilation (Claes Oldenburg, quoted in Barbara Rose, Claes Oldenburg, New York, 1970, p. 198).

    Musing on West’s artistic limbo, situated between art and life, Darsie Alexander notes how the artist’s work ‘Fundamentally sculptural in construction, veers frequently towards the biomorphic and the prosthetic, mines the intellectualism of Sigmund Freud and Wittgenstein, and possesses an awkward beauty that speaks with equal fluency to the aesthetics of painterly abstraction and trash art... With its alternately crumbly or sleek surfaces, the work beckons human touch in an environment where such demonstrative reactions are strictly forbidden’ (Darsie Alexander, To Build a House You Start With the Roof: Work 1972-2008, exh. cat., The Baltimore Museum of Art, Baltimore, 2008, p. 49).

    As such, West’s poignant opus draws on both classical and contemporary culture. Testament to the artist’s enduring legacy, the artist’s prolific career culminated in his winning the lifetime achievement award at the 2011 Venice Biennale, and his work has been celebrated in recent major retrospective exhibitions at the Hepworth Museum, Wakefield in 2014, the Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, in 2018, and currently at Tate Modern, London. Emblematic of his characteristically textural practice, Untitled departs from any classical notion of canonical sculpture. Its ambiguous decipherability channels the gravitas of Wittgenstein’s theories whilst simultaneously conjuring whimsical apertures, positioning the artist within, and simultaneously far beyond, the monumental stature of 20th century sculpture.



acrylic on papier-mâché on metal base
168 x 98 x 83 cm (66 1/8 x 38 5/8 x 32 5/8 in.)
Executed in 2007.

£300,000 - 500,000 ‡♠

Sold for £350,000

Contact Specialist

Rosanna Widén

Director, Senior Specialist
Head of Evening Sale, 20th Century & Contemporary Art

44 20 7318 4060

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 27 June 2019