Franz West: Biography

Emerging in the early 1970s, Austrian-born artist Franz West (1947-2012) developed a unique aesthetic that engaged equally high and low reference points and often privileged social interaction as an intrinsic component of his work. While he was known primarily as a sculptor, his body of work incorporated drawing, collage, video, and installation, using papier-mâché, furniture, cardboard, plaster, found imagery, and other diverse materials. By playfully manipulating everyday materials and imagery in novel ways, he created objects that serve to redefine art as a social experience, calling attention to the way in which art is presented to the public, and how viewers interact with works of art and with each other. 

West studied at the Akademie der bildenden Künste, Vienna from 1977 to 1982. He began exhibiting his work in the 1970s in Austria and Germany and gained recognition across Europe in the 1980s, with significant shows at such venues as Kunsthaus Zürich (1985), the Neue Galerie am Landesmuseum Joanneum, Graz (1986); Wiener Secession, Vienna (1986); Skulptur Projekte Münster (1987); Kunsthalle Bern (1988); Portikus, Frankfurt (1988); Museum Haus Lange, Krefeld (1989); and the Institute for Contemporary Art, P.S.1, Long Island City, New York (1989).

The 1990s brought widespread international recognition, and the artist’s work was presented in numerous prestigious venues worldwide including the Austrian Pavilion of the 44th Venice Biennale (1990); documenta IX, Kassel (1992); The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (1994); Dia Center for the Arts, New York (1994); Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh (Carnegie International, 1995); Villa Arson, Nice (1995-1996); and the Städtisches Museum Abteiberg, Mönchengladbach (1996). A major, mid-career retrospective (Franz West. Proforma) was organized by the Museum moderner Kunst Stiftung Ludwig, Vienna in 1996 (it traveled to the Kunsthalle Basel and Rijksmuseum Kröller-Müller, Otterlo); and solo exhibitions were held at the Kunstverein Hamburg (1996); FRAC Champagne-Ardenne, Reims (1997); The Museum of Modern Art, New York (1997); Fundação de Serralves, Porto (1997). West participated in documenta X, Kassel (1997); and the Rooseum, Centre for Contemporary Art, Malmö, presented a solo exhibition of his work in 1999. West’s work was featured at The Renaissance Society, Chicago (2000); Skulptur im Schlosspark Ambras, Innsbruck, Austria (2000); and Museum für Neue Kunst, ZKM Karlsruhe and the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid presented the traveling survey Franz West: In & Out (2000-2001).

Further exhibitions were held at the Museum für angewandte Kunst (MAK), Vienna and MASS MoCA, North Adams, Massachusetts (2001-2002); Deichtorhallen, Hamburg (2001-2002); Wexner Center for Contemporary Art, Columbus, Ohio (2001); Musée d’Art Contemporain, Marseille (2002); Whitechapel Art Gallery, London (2003); Kunsthaus Bregenz (2003); the Vancouver Art Gallery (2005); Museum für angewandte Kunst, Vienna (2008); Fondation Beyeler, Basel (2009); and the exhibition Franz West. Autotheater traveled from the Museum Ludwig, Cologne to the museo d'arte contemporanea donnaregina, Naples in 2010.

A significant grouping of outdoor sculptures was installed in the Lincoln Center Plaza in New York in 2004 (organized by Public Art Fund). In 2008-2009, The Baltimore Museum of Art organized the retrospective Franz West: To Build a House You Start with the Roof, which traveled to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art; and in 2013, a significant posthumous overview of the artist’s work Franz West. Wo ist mein Achter? (Where Is My Eight?) was presented at the Museum moderner Kunst Stiftung Ludwig Wien, Vienna, followed by Museum für Moderne Kunst (MMK), Frankfurt/Main and The Hepworth Wakefield, England.

A major survey of the artist’s work opened at the Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, in 2018, and traveled to the Tate Modern, London, in 2019.

Work by the artist is held in major museum collections, including the Albertina Museum, Vienna; Bonnefanten Museum, Maastricht, the Netherlands; CAC Centro de Arte Contemporáneo, Malága, Spain; Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris; Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, DC; Kröller-Müller Museum, Otterlo, The Netherlands; Kunsthaus Bregenz, Austria; Kunsthalle Bern, Switzerland; Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Humlebæk, Denmark; Museum Boijmans van Beuningen, Rotterdam, The Netherlands; The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; The Museum of Modern Art, New York; Museum Moderner Kunst Stiftung Ludwig Wien, Vienna; Philadelphia Museum of Art; S.M.A.K. - Stedelijk Museum voor Actuele Kunst, Ghent, Belgium; and ZKM | Museum für Neue Kunst, Karlsruhe, Germany.

During the artist’s lifetime, he presented several solo exhibitions at David Zwirner, in 1993, 1994, 1996, 1998 (with Heimo Zobernig), and 1999. The gallery further organized an exhibition of the artist’s early work in 2004-2005, and a show in 2014 that focused on work from the 1990s, which was accompanied by a catalogue published by David Zwirner Books, with essays by Eva Badura-Triska, Veit Loers, and Bernhard Riff. Most recently, a solo presentation of the artist’s sculptures and works on paper from 1972 to 2004 was on view in 2019 at David Zwirner, London.

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