Franz West
Man with a Ball

October 9 – November 10, 2012

GAGOSIAN GALLERY- Britannia Street, London

Images courtesy of Gagosian Gallery Website. More information about the exhibition can be found here:

FRANZ WEST: Man with a Ball”
Installation view
Photo by Mike Bruce

There is a really exciting solo exhibition of Franz West sculptures and paintings at Gagosian Gallery in London.

FRANZ WEST: Man with a Ball”
Installation view
Photo by Mike Bruce

“Creativity is just rhetoric. The everyday life wants to enter, but I have to carefully dam it up.” West

As a newcomer to Franz West, I side-stepped past the large pink intestinal sculpture in the foyer and sat at a table, leafing through various catalogues, whilst my fellow compadre rampaged through an entire sketchbook making fast, expressive drawings from the sculptures in the gallery.

I came across a five-page conversation between the artist Sarah Lucas and Franz West at the front of a book.  It seemed to be an email dialogue, where Lucas posed questions to West about his motivations and where they might position their art against others as well as hair removal. It flitted between seriousness and nonsense. There was a film called Energy Diaries, shown at the ICA this year,documenting a 2010 conversation between the two artists and also Andreas Reiter Raabe, with music interventions by Philipp Quehenberger. There is a really good and funny review of this talk held at the Royal Institution, London, 21st June 2010  by Rebecca Bell: Click on this link to see more….‘a-talk’-sarah-lucas-andreas-reiter-raabe-and-franz-west/

 I have included an extract from the write-up by Rebecca Bell, as it sets the tone for West’s  and indeed Lucas’ work.

“The evening reached a climax of mixed pleasure, frustration and confusion when Lucas walked out saying “I’m going for a wee” which resulted in many people leaving. West shrugged and said to the audience “money back again”. I suddenly felt I was part of a morphing Stoppard Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead.

When Lucas returned questions were invited from the floor – to which a young man asked what was going on. He had come for a talk, he had come to an institution, he expected information, and he expected a structure.

The artists asked him what he wanted to know and they would tell him. The starry crowd tangibly divided between those sneering at his lack of comprehension and those nodding vehemently at his right to ask the question they were too afraid to ask. Perhaps he exposed an Emperor’s New Clothes element to the proceeding, but also in questioning the activity he created a Brechtian sense of performance, a commentator exposing the process of the event, clarifying the deterioration of the 4th (in this case even 3rd, 2nd and 1st?) wall.

The frustration of many seemed contradictory for a crowd so willing to accept anything within the boundaries of the artists’ decision and yet they rejected this member of the audience for demanding to become a part of an apparently boundless event/experience through his question.

I digress; back to the books and I read a second interview. West was asked how he begins his sculptures. In response, West explained how he would stand in front of nothing and then make a ‘body’ which is then corrected and vamped up in several stages to conceal his ‘inability’ to make art.  Various objects such as wicker baskets and card board boxes used to develop this central body were left partly exposed and unpainted whilst other areas are completely submerged in  bandages of paper and paint and no longer identifiable.

FRANZ WEST: Man with a Ball”
Installation view
Photo by Mike Bruce

FRANZ WEST: Man with a Ball”
Installation view
Photo by Mike Bruce

My fellow artist made some really interesting observations about West’s work. She described them as a  3-D drawing on a journey. The  twisting shapes felt full of movement as I was compelled to scan over the sculptures following the curves from end to end. There was a desire to interact; to step over, get inside and to touch the sculptures. West mentions his link with Nikki De Saint Phalle’s grottos, where the audience could inhabit both the interior and also view the surface of the art work. In fact, her giant sculpture garden  in Tuscany was indeed inhabited by De Saint Phalle and her team of workers for the duration of its construction.

Niki De Saint Phalle

A post man came into deliver some letters to Gagosian passing right through the pink twirling form and  then ducking back out again. Did he really touch that? I quite liked his blasé attitude as this seemed on the same level as West. I read how West was also not a fan of Henry Moore’s sculptures, as they were too perfect and smooth. There is an equilibrium between the  process of construction and the physicality of materials and structure. Nothing is more or less important; The surfaces are not overworked and the sculptures don’t pretend to be anything other than a mass of pulp objects and paint. The sculptures were made mainly from paper mache pulp and foam; materials akin to school art lessons. The paint is clumpy and mottled. West mentioned that others would colour the sculptures as he thought he could not paint, but the sculptures became to ‘arrogant’ to him, so he started to paint them himself instead. Some of the sculptures are partly painted, so you can see the grey paper mulch peeking through or large areas are left unprimed. Then there is a mixture of upside-down drips, splashes and layering of different colours that also have dripped down onto the plinths below. I read that when returning to his freshly painted sculptures for the first time, he saw the colour had lost its shine and vitality and was disappointed by this. However the sculptures at Gagosian had been developed using a gloss of acrylic lacquer which increased the richness of colours.

FRANZ WEST: Man with a Ball”
Installation view
Photo by Mike Bruce

“A sculpture is more real than a 2-D artwork.” West

FRANZ WEST: Man with a Ball”
Installation view
Photo by Mike Bruce

 I wanted not to like West’s work, but it was not possible. It was so free and fun and casual and lacking any pomposity or pretensions. He seemed a  bit of a joker.

From Gagosian’s Press release:

“In the seventies, he produced the first of the small, portable, mixed media sculptures called Adaptives (Passstücke). These “ergonomically inclined” objects become complete as artworks only when the viewer holds, wears, carries or performs with them. Transposing the knowledge gained with these formative works, he explored sculpture increasingly in terms of an ongoing dialogue of actions and reactions between viewers and objects in any given exhibition space, while probing the internal aesthetic relations between sculpture and painting.”

My favourite part of the exhibition, was these three baby coloured sculptures. Ridiculously big, yet not monumental, cartoon like and silly, pleasurable and enveloping, the sculptures seemed to float in the space like alien meteors.
Franz West- 16 February 1947 – 25 July 2012

RUNA ISLAM- WHITE CUBE and Elmgreen & Dragset- Victoria Miro

White Cube. 48 Hoxton Square London N1 6PB. Tuesday – Saturday 10am – 6pm.

 I saw Runa Islam’s work at the White Cube in Hoxton. The exhibition is on until 3rd November 2012.

The image opening her work on the Whitecube website is this…..?

It was pouring with rain and I had got soaked whilst escorting my students back to Old Street tube, although they knew the way. We had been on a gallery tour to The Barbican, Victoria Miro and Parasol Unit, with one extra stop off with a few die-hards at The Signal Gallery to see Guy Dennings portraits. With students dispatched, I was now free, but dripping with water, so headed to the Breakfast Club for a milkshake and to warm up. Once suitably dry, I thought I’d continue with my plan of visiting the White Cube. It looked closed, as the entrance and interior space was so dark, but the door pushed open and someone was just visible behind the front desk. I picked up an artist info sheet and tried to read it in the low light. I could see what looked like a massive projector in the middle of the space and a solitary figure sitting on a bench looking out of the gallery…

I’m sure it was not there before, but a huge roll down shutter dominated the space, allowing a fragment of the street outside to be visible within the normal ‘white cube’ of the gallery. It made the space less determined, less immersive, more fragile somehow and gave the illusion of a longer and narrow space; in other words, it was less cube-like.  The shutter opening was actually directed at The Breakfast Club doorway, from where I had just come from and this felt strange; and therefore why I now choose to divulge this opening story in my gallery review. I had already been in the gallery unknowingly and also possible watched, judged? by the gentleman looking out at the street. Had he recognised my shoes and coat, now in the gallery, had he contemplated my hesitation of entering the cafe, my determined steps through the rain back out into the street, or just saw me as a passerby, of feet and legs, an object one usually navigates around?

I also started to watch some people walk past. Their faces anonymous and concealed by the partially closed shutter. They became a generic passerby, moving through the city streets. I did not wonder where they were going, as they were characterless. Perhaps if I had stayed longer, my perception would have changed. It was indeed just a shutter, a normal opening in a building, but because I had never seen it before, it became something new and awkward that disrupted the gallery space. Yet it also became a moving image, a unrecordable film, a  possible adaptions of the camera obscura.

The Breakfast Club on a sunny day.

The next  artwork I came across involved a projection using very dated equipment, which  I think may have been a super 8. The contraption to run the footage became monolithic, complex and magnificent, the film  on the other hand was subtle, simple and incidental in comparison. The sequence of images, heightened even further the idea of contrasting scale. I imagined seeing barren landscapes, horizons and suspension bridges,  momentarily fracturing the actual reality of  camera pans along the edge of a skirting board and  a sheet of glass. I recalled  photos by Gursky and Jeff Wall, perhaps a Rothko.

unique pieces

Andreas Gurksy

Jeff Wall


So at times, the film was abstract, then a bleak horizon, then it revealed itself as edge of a room, perhaps of a gallery space; perhaps the glass being part of the Museum’s system of presentation and not an artwork in itself, perhaps momentarily left, but now made purposeful.

I continued to the upstairs gallery and asked the attendant if I could take photos,  but he said no. Here are images from the Whitecube website and an extract from the  press release explaining the content of the artwork in this room.

“Also included in the exhibition is the 16mm film ‘Cabinet of Prototypes’ (2009/2010). Made from research Islam conducted as an artist fellow at the Smithsonian Institution’s Freer and Arthur M. Sackler Galleries, it shows the stands, hooks, plinths and labels used to present artefacts in the collection.The artist brings these support structures that would normally remain concealed back into view, erasing their functionality and restaging them as sculptural objects in their own right.

Islam also includes armatures intended for the presentation of museum objects as components of the exhibition, retrieving these structures from invisibility and holding them up for display.Often folding the machinery of film into the works and including numerous self-reflexive allusions, the exhibition presents a layered meditation on the mechanisms of viewing and perception and the narratives of art making and display.”

I can not explain it more succinctly than this, so will describe the physicality of the gallery space instead. The room was really dark,  outside was rainy and grey. The gallery attendant was curled up on the window ledge, reading a book. When I sat down to watch the film, he stood up and was silhouetted by the window and continued to read.  I guess I noticed the entire space and not just the central artwork, perhaps now being primed by the artwork downstairs. There was no clear distinction between the projected image and the projector. At first, I viewed the equipment, then behind the film, as it was projected on to glass and therefore double-sided, then the content of the film itself. The ‘front’ of the film was made apparent by the benches placed against the wall, so being compliant to the ideal viewing angle, (although I think the artwork questions this)  I sat down to view the film.

Cabinet of Prototypes (still)
Duration: 7 minutes
16mm colour film, mute, vitrine and various installation materials

 The footage emphasised the importance of the museum fixtures, panning inside a jumbled cabinet of hanging devices. I had no idea of this context, and although the fragments at times looked like futuristic buildings, even aeroplanes, they always exposed themselves as something small  in scale and structure and a part or by-product of something else

It would have been ideal if my students had come along to this exhibition, as it drew parallels with the exhibition by Elmgreen & Dragset at Victoria Miro Gallery they had seen earlier that afternoon. The artists in question had extracted sections of gallery walls from all over the world and placed them on to framed canvas.

At first glance, you see just a white square, but with closer examination, along its edges, you see a history of  paint layers, different colours and thickness like the rings of a tree. Then you start to contemplate the prestigious of each gallery in relation to how it re-decorates. Does a thin paint application show a better gallery than the thicker ones? Do imperfections in brush stroke and consistency conduct a more lackadaisical approach, less authority or a more left-wing standing?  I pointed out the Hayward Gallery artwork and said to the few remaining students who had not already bombed through this space in disappoint, “My friend could have made this” thinking of the gallery assistants that re-paint the space after each show.  The artwork by Elmgreen & Dragsetat focussed my attention upon the gallery assistants who are often artists  themselves.

So to me, Ruma Islam and also Elmgreen & Dragset are making work about how hierarchical  significance is placed on certain artefacts. In a different way of questioning what constitute art in a gallery space, from that  per se of a pile of bricks, the actual bricks and mortar, the gallery hangings, the surfaces of which art is hung are brought to the fore and become the area of interest.

Elmgreen & Dragset

With the cold rain outside lashing down upon busy London streets, Islam’s  retro films, glowed warmly and provided a similar reassurance to the hay barn by Elmgreen & Dragset at Victoria Miro. They create artifices of space within  the confines of the gallery. The current installation includes a room full of hay, wooden beam constructions  and a model of a boy perched on top of the gallery balcony.

Of course the gallery space can build a fabrication of something inviting and homely and push against the white cube confines. If only I had laid down in the straw for a while and let my students find their own way back home, I could have almost convinced myself I was in a barn in another time and place.


I went to see this exhibition ” YOU BLOW ME AWAY” in Rivington street near Old street, particularly drawn by their press release image below. I liked the look of that ‘squashed bunny in a bauble aesthetic.”
(Public vote winner of Catlin Prize 2012)

Here is a link to the website

Here is a picture of the front of the shop/gallery space

      The work features artists:

Andrea Hasler
Patrick Furness
Adeline de Monseignat  and is curated by Silia Ka Tung
The show “reveals the delicate and sensual in animal and human anatomy, albeit in a subversive way.”

 The exhibition runs until 14th July 2012