Please do touch: Franz West brings mischief to Inverleith House, Edinburgh

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

A major exhibition at the Edinburgh Festival features the collaborative ventures of the late Austrian artist Franz West. Visitors are encouraged to interact with the works and Adrian Hamilton joins in the fun

Franz West, who died a year ago, was the most loved and lovable of Austrian artists. Variously described as a prankster, a mischief-maker and a joker, he was above all engaging – engaging in his personality, engaging in the way that he sought in his art to make light of the consumerist society  his country had become and, most  urgently, engaging in the way that  he worked to attract the viewer to  interact with the sculptures and installations he created.

It’s only right therefore for Edinburgh’s ever adventurous Inverleith House to pay homage to him not with a survey of his works or a  retrospective  but with an exhibition of the collaborative ventures he  involved himself and others in through much of his career.

Good for Inverleith, a once gracious mansion set in the midst of the cultivated vistas of the Royal Botanic Garden. If conceptual art is to have any meaning, and Franz West was a leading light, it need not be stamped with the hand of a single author. Commercial galleries of course would have us believe otherwise but then their promotion of their own “artists” demands they do so.

West would have none of that. Although he was an artist of supreme individuality – even in his installations he kept firm control as primary instigator of the works – he didn’t see them as expressions of himself so much as living objects to fill the mind and the physical embrace of the public. The artist was the enabler not the owner. Collaboration with other artists was not simply acceptable but creative. Honoured with the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement at the Venice Biennale in 2011, the year before his death, he produced an installation, Extroversion, in which he turned his Viennese kitchen inside out and showed the works of his artistic friends on the outside that was inside. It was playful but also supremely generous.

Certainly it is the pleasure principle which comes across most strongly in this seven-room show in Edinburgh where the young staff, unnervingly  entitled “invigilators”, eagerly  persuade the visitor that, yes, it’s  perfectly all right to touch this object or sit or lie on the divan to see the  picture suspended above. Indeed, you are positively encouraged to pick up one of his Passtücke’ (Adaptives) staffs with their amorphous papier mâché forms at their end, and twirl them around, march with them on your shoulder, attempt to dance with them or do any other silly thing you wish in the privacy of the cubicle of newspaper front pages he designed with Michelangelo Pistoletto.

Anselm Reyle and Franz West’s ‘Hans, Otto, White Wall’ (2011) Anselm Reyle and Franz West’s ‘Hans, Otto, White Wall’ (2011)

West’s collaborations were as  various as his friends. The list of  associates in this show reads like a roll call of the old as well as young protagonists of action art and multi-media  experiment. Pistoletto, now turned 80, is one of the senior figures of the Italian Arte Povera movement. Invited to provide a mirror for the Passtücke cabinet, he joined in with a raft ideas for using newspapers to line the walls as well as the mirror to reflect the viewer’s sense of themselves.

West’s work with the Austrian  cabinet-maker and furniture designer, Mathis Esterhazy is an intriguing and in some ways baffling assembly of  ordinary objects cast in metal with a video explanation by Esterhazy to  accompany it. Ealan’s Desire, as it is called includes rakes, sieves, a hurdle and hooded cover and a steel arc positioned at the corner of the walls. One of the objects, called Pis-Aller, which apparently inspired West to create the installation, was placed between buildings to discourage men from urinating in the corners. Gathered together the pieces are both familiar and, in their metallic force, unnerving. A rake, by being made in steel, appears like an instrument of aggression, a sieve transformed from wood to steel becomes constrictive, a hurdle made up of rods and bars is made into an obstacle  rather than a leap.

The exhibition works best where the installation fills out the room. A first gallery devoted to collaborative work with Anselm Reyle, the young German artist with whom West had a particularly close association, is decked out like a café, with the bright colours, the painted chairs, the chained light fixtures and the wall collages which West took up with especial enthusiasm  towards the end of his life. There is a sculpture made out of an old bicycle and bed springs, a light hanging seemingly held up rather than down by a chain and chairs painted as if they were made of laminated wood.

In another room, there is a collaboration with the Scottish artist Douglas Gordon, in which two of West’s favoured three-seater divans (three because the additional space adds an element of openness but also squeeze) face each other while a line of words based on, but upending, the song “Every time I Think of You” run along the walls. A  further section also shows off a group of some 15 white sculptures of mostly elongated form, each made by one of a group of artists West assembled for an installation he entitled Edelweiss with a group photograph of them all in alpine garb used as a poster.

A bare room arranged by West  with fellow Austrian, Heimo Zobernig, has lines of chairs facing a blank white box projecting out of the wall, an  object waiting to happen. On the pond below Inverleith House floats a raft, also a collaboration between the  two Austrians, with the words “Le Bateau” inscribed round its base in large white letters.

Down in the basement, Talk without Words, a joint exercise with the Viennese photo reporter and photographer, Marina Faust, records four people around a table batting with their heads a large woollen ball  between each other.

Sarah Lucas, another late collaborator who came to West’s attention for her sculptures fashioned out of chairs, is represented by a papier mâché rock with a fried egg on its top as well as a figure made out of lengths of pasta like tubes, called Spaghetti West. With his wife, the Georgian artist, Tamuna Sirbiladze, West made a wall-sized painting, Canale Grande of painted Molino, steel and plastic, with two plasticised chairs beneath.

‘Epiphanie’ (2011) by Anselm Reyle and Franz West ‘Epiphanie’ (2011) by Anselm Reyle and Franz West The British are not renowned for their sense of fun in art still less a  willingness to interact with works on display. “Don’t touch the objects” is  ingrained in all of this. But if the  visitors I saw seemed hesitant at first, by the time they got to the top floor there was at least the odd smile and a nervous effort to participate.

What makes the work of West and his collaborators so attractive is not just the ideas, witty as some of them are. However many variations you can make of a chair, there comes a point where the fun is had by the artists thinking it up rather than the viewer regarding the furniture. Where West scored, however, was in his feel for  texture and his passionate belief in art as an object, albeit a playful one.

The son of a coal dealer and a Jewish dentist, brought up in a social housing development in Vienna, he never joined the Actionism and Expressionist movements around him. His real  influence was far more the Arte Povera movement in Italy, with its concern for found and ordinary materials and its sense of engagement with the viewer. “It doesn’t matter what the art looks like,” he argued, “but how it is used.”

The Inverleith hasn’t got the giant, writhing sculptures he made with papier mâché and ordinary materials which are perhaps his finest and most characteristic works. Organic in shape, twisted in structure and immensely tactile in feel, they intrigue, challenge and cheer all at once. What Edinburgh has instead are the things he made with others in a spirit of creative fun which we can share. An exhibition to go to with an open mind and a twinkle in your eye.

Mostly West: Franz West and Artistic Collaborations, Inverleith House, Edinburgh (0131) 552 7171)  to 22 September

Arts and Entertainment

eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Fearne Cotton is leaving Radio 1 after a decade

radio
Arts and Entertainment
The light stuff: Britt Robertson and George Clooney in ‘Tomorrowland: a World Beyond’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Radio
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
I am flute: Azeem Ward and his now-famous instrument
music
Arts and Entertainment
A glass act: Dr Chris van Tulleken (left) and twin Xand get set for their drinking challenge
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
MIA perform at Lovebox 2014 in London Fields, Hackney

music
Arts and Entertainment
Finnish punk band PKN hope to enter Eurovision 2015 and raise awareness for Down's Syndrome

eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
William Shakespeare on the cover of John Gerard's The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes

books
Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones review
Arts and Entertainment
Grayson Perry dedicates his Essex home to Julie

Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treat

tv
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the original Swedish version of the sci-fi TV drama ‘Real Humans’
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hugh Keays-Byrne plays Immortan Joe, the terrifying gang leader, in the new film
filmActor who played Toecutter returns - but as a different villain in reboot
Arts and Entertainment
Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jessica Hynes in W1A
tvReview: Perhaps the creators of W1A should lay off the copy and paste function spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Power play: Mitsuko Uchida in concert

classical
Arts and Entertainment
Dangerous liaisons: Dominic West, Jake Richard Siciliano, Maura Tierney and Leya Catlett in ‘The Affair’ – a contradictory drama but one which is sure to reel the viewers in
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Herring, pictured performing at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival two years ago
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
Music freak: Max Runham in the funfair band
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
film 'I felt under-used by Hollywood'
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study

    One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
    From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

    Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

    'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
    'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

    Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

    This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

    Songs from the bell jar

    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
    How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

    One man's day in high heels

    ...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
    The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

    King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

    The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

    End of the Aussie brain drain

    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
    Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

    Can meditation be bad for you?

    Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
    Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

    Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

    Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
    Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

    Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

    Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
    Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

    Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

    Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
    Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

    Join the tequila gold rush

    The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
    12 best statement wallpapers

    12 best statement wallpapers

    Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
    Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

    Paul Scholes column

    Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?