West’s exploration of the relationship between the sculptural form and the human form has defined much of his celebrated career. Starting in the 1980s with his Adaptives, West created art that required an interactive viewer. These white papier-mâché forms were meant to be worn, touched, or carried – only this level of tactile engagement could activate the forms as artworks. Executed in 2009 as West was nearing the end of his life, Paukenschlag recalls the Adaptives from the beginning of his career and similarly entreats the viewer to explore its visceral and rugged surface.
In addition to its visual interest, Paukenschlag engages the viewer intellectually by referencing Joseph Haydn’s Symphony No. 94 (Symphony mit dem Paukenschlag). This Symphony is especially famous for the sudden fortissimo chord which interrupts the otherwise soothing piano theme in the second movement. The playfulness of Haydn’s composition and its challenge to established tradition mirror West’s own iconoclasm, whereby his intentionally inscrutable, contorted forms appear to mock the conservative art world.
The playful composition and philosophical sensibility of Paukenschlag exemplifies the duality of West’s work. The absurdity within this sculpture wrestles with and reimagines the nature of art, as he pokes fun at tradition yet understands its past. This work is inherently unpretentious and exists on a level which the viewer can understand and appreciate. In this way with Paukenschlag, Franz West manages to both satisfy a youthful nostalgia and an intellectual curiosity by allowing his art to exist on the same plane as the viewer.
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