Telefonat (Phone Call)
Telefonat (Phone Call), 1997
Two artist tables and four sculptures; metal, wood, papier-mâché, gauze, plaster, and paint
Overall: 68 1/2 × 33 1/2 × 61 1/2 inches (174 × 85.1 × 156.2 cm)
Overall dimensions vary with installation
Emerging in the early 1970s, Austrian-born artist Franz West (1947-2012) developed a unique aesthetic that equally engaged 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.
While interactive work remained characteristic of his practice, West became increasingly interested in autonomous sculpture in the 1990s, creating a series of abstract, painted papier-mâché and plaster forms that rest on unusual supports, humorously playing with the notion of the sculptural pedestal. As described by Darsie Alexander, "there is a distinct look to West's work that defies quick visual digestion. Fundamentally sculptural in construction, it veers frequently towards the biomorphic and the prosthetic, mines the intellectualism of Freud and Wittgenstein, and possesses an awkward beauty that speaks with equal fluency to the aesthetics of painterly abstraction and trash art." 1 Sculptures from this period are often supported by found objects that include rolls of tape and paint cans, among other common materials, or by pedestals that could easily also serve as cupboards or liquor cabinets (West leaves their use to the discretion of the owner).
The present work consists of two sets of brightly colored sculptural forms that resemble an abstracted telephone receiver and a cradle, placed on abutting studio tables as if in dialogue with each other. As the artist explained, "Artists are known to make 'telephone drawings' (they happen during telephone calls). The 'telephone sculptures,' on the other hand are left the way they are if one gets interrupted by a telephone call during their production. I would have labored on them further, but during the telephone call I look at them while 'my rational thinking' is sucked away through the telephone receiver. That way I often have a similarly strange impression as if I see sculptures again after many years; meaning: I ask myself how I made it just this way. I owe this unusual esthetic reception during the process of production, which otherwise would probably become 'the usual' due to the constraints of rationalization, to the installation of a telephone in my studio." 2
1 Darsie Alexander, "Franz West: What To Do?" in Alexander, ed., Franz West, To Build a House You Start With the Roof: Work 1972-2008. Exh. cat. (Baltimore: The Baltimore Museum of Art, 2008), p. 49.
2 Statement by the artist for didactic materials for The Carnegie International, 1995.