Mostly West: Franz West and Artist Collaborations

The Austrian artist Franz West, who died last year, was eager to form partnerships with his contemporaries. More than thirty artists contributed to the pieces on display at Inverleith House and yet you would be hard pressed to deduce this from the artworks. This exhibition is, as the title suggests, mostly – if not entirely – about West. His collaborators’ input often seems reduced to a purely material contribution, with the creative reins remaining firmly in West’s hands. There is no evidence of the acclaimed sculptor being drawn out of his comfort zone, something which rather defeats the purpose of an exhibition composed exclusively of collaborative works.

Nevertheless, there is much to enjoy. Some fifty pieces - mostly charmingly strange sculptures - are thoughtfully curated in a bright, intimate space at the heart of the Botanic Garden. It’s worth seeking out the floating installation on the Chinese pond nearby, too – Bateau Imaginaire, a quirky collaboration between West and Heimo Zobernig. Coming of age in Vienna in the 70s, West bounced up against movements such as Pop Art and Fluxus; elements and rejections of both can be found in his boisterous blending of mediums. The collaborative angle confounds attempts to trace the artist’s development, although fragments of exhibitions past offer some snapshot-like insights.

West’s cruder, more critically divisive side stays hidden, with the exception of one uninspired set of photographs quarantined in the basement. By eliminating West the often tasteless provocateur, the exhibition emphasises the lighthearted, the playful, and the populist. This is by no means a misfortune. West’s sculptures are eminently entertaining - as demonstrated by some children who turned the fluffy pendulum of Talk Without Words into a plaything. This is art which refuses to take itself seriously. Dieter Roth, whose work was an obvious influence, mixed plastics and foodstuffs into ghastly concoctions; West and his collaborators, however, stick to gentler fare. Stickers, neon paint, inflatables and leopard-print recur, as do chairs. It’s all terrific fun.

West’s famous ‘Adaptives’ – abstract sculptures designed for manipulation by the spectator – set the tone for a small exhibition which is accessible and friendly, with a light touch triumphing over serious considerations. There is nothing overtly thought-provoking on display. These collaborations confuse, but they do not confront.

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Performances

The Blurb

First exhibition by the great Austrian artist Franz West (1947-2012) of works made in collaboration with other artists, including Douglas Gordon, Mike Kelley, Albert Oehlen, Anselm Reyle, and Rudolf Stingel. Supported by Gagosian Gallery.

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