Sunday, October 12, 2008

Franz West @ the BMA

Seth and me, awesome photo by Cara Ober
The Franz West exhibition is a testament that the BMA is truly on its "A" game; reaching out to the public with an incredibly interactive exhibition, challenging institutional norms, and always willing to shake things up. It is truly one of the most exciting, interactive exhibits ever to grace the floors of the the BMA's main exhibition space. The exhibition includes almost every form of media you could ask for; photographs, collages, furniture, interactive rooms, video, ceiling sculptures, sticker paintings ( Amazing! I know! ) and one behemoth sculpture, the Ego and the Id, unveiled specifically for the retrospective. He runs the gamut artistically, which is only one of the reasons that this exhibition is so overwhelmingly powerful.

West is an artist who seeks to redefine the way in which we view sculpture. Once you think you have figured out his shtick, you find something that completely turns your universe upside down in a major way and realize that you have only begun to understand a fraction of this man's genius. He forces interaction; with the pieces, with fellow gallery-goers and with the idea of the museum as your setting. This exhibition invites conversation, prolonged hang-out, and ultimately removal from your immediate surroundings-however bizarre-sometimes resembling a cool apartment rather than a gallery. In a collaborative piece with Douglas Gordon, two couches are placed living room-like in a corner, with "each time you think of us," and "we die, a little" in vinyl lettering above them. While they provide an amazing vantage point for viewing the work, it is easy to forget that in sitting down, you have become part of the exhibition. West's work is not short on humor, which is often intertwined with unabashed alcohol references. My favorite caption in the show was for his Lemure heads, a recurring theme in his work, which he described as "hangover-induced apparitions," and champagne-bottle penises among the most memorable imagery. Despite his early influences, West is operating within and clearly benefiting from the commercial art world, but also arguably mocks these tastes. He isn't precious-or pretentious for that matter- about his work, using what appear to be second-hand frames, and trusts his audience with a rare sensory experience of direct interaction with his creations. Yes, you can and are encouraged to touch a large percentage of the work.
Cara Ober, reclining on a West bench

As a young artist, performance and "happenings" permeated his art awareness. "Art" took place in secret meetings, as anti-bourgeois demonstrations, definitely influencing his sensibilities. This concept of raw interaction is most apparent in his Adaptives, small white sculptures that people are asked to carry around, temporarily enhancing or inhibiting one's experience-props for a potential "happenings" within the museum. Footage of people using the Adaptives is displayed in a side gallery, an oddly melancholic video piece, a hiccup in the mostly playful exhibit. West is an artist who seems to grab from every source he can get his hands on, always exploring new territory with reckless abandon, and in this way he injects a powerful dose of dada and playfulness into every facet of his work and every corner of the installation space. Guess who I went to the art show with!

a better pic of the couch taken by Cara Ober
This show rules, don't miss it. On display at the Baltimore Museum of Art from October 12, 2008 through January 4, 2009, go at least twice.
Written by Alex Ebstein and John Bohl
with mostly sneaky hip-shot photos by Alex Ebstein