Coming of age in the era of punk, radicalism and artistic revolution, West was a Renaissance Man who drew from both contemporary and classical culture. Equally at home in discussing medieval animism as he was in debating theories of Dostoevsky and Wittgenstein, West demonstrated a thirst for knowledge that went beyond the cultural trends of his era. His insatiable yearning for new ideas is reflected in the diversity of his practice, which covers mediums ranging from drawing to sculpture, from collage to performance. In appropriating a variety of oriental carpets, African fabrics and Op-Art mechanisms, the artist sought to construct a truly international corpus that reflects a global perspective.
Instead of viewing artistic creation solely as the expression of his individual character, West credited the external world as his main source of influence: “I don’t construct things from out of the void and place them into the world. I face the world and I respond to its demands the best I can. That’s the way I work – not constructive but responsive” (Franz West cited in: Exh. Cat., New York, David Zwirner, Franz West: the 1990s, 2014, p. 9). This notion of response could be seen both through his wide-ranging collaborations as well as his awareness of the audience’s role in the display of his work, often installing blanketed sedans and benches alongside his sculptures. Early in his career, during the 1970s, West forged a critical standing with his Adaptives sculptures: white, biomorphic objects that viewers could pick up and use however they liked. Created over thirty years later, Kawasaki combines West’s astute scholarship and openness to interpretation to form a striking work of intellectual depth. Its title, denoting both a city and motorcycle brand, inextricably binds the work to the culture of Japan. Yet within this framework, the viewer is free to make up their own interpretation of the sculpture’s meaning.
With its asymmetric shape and muted palette, Kawasaki resembles a moss-covered rock glittering under the soft morning sunlight, evoking the meticulously arranged geological formations that decorate traditional Japanese gardens and palace grounds. Appearing as if it has weathered the endless passage of time, the sculpture exudes a zen-like aura of serenity and invites the viewer to meditate on its understated beauty. Supported only by a small connection to its base, Kawasaki seems to hover in mid-air akin to the mirage-like landscapes of Edo-period woodblock prints, famously named ‘images of the floating world’.
Through a long and renowned career, that culminated in winning the lifetime achievement award at the 2011 Venice Biennale, West dazzled audiences worldwide with his striking conceptual work. With recent retrospective exhibitions at the Hepworth Museum, Wakefield (2014) and Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris (2018), as well as the upcoming Tate Modern show, London (2019), it is evident that West’s practice exerts a continuing influence on contemporary artistic developments. Like the epitaphs erected in commemoration of famous historical figures, the monumental Kawasaki stands as tribute and testimony to West’s illustrious legacy.
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