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Franz West: Sit Down and Stay Awhile

Having arrived in the port of Baltimore from Vienna, the work of Austrian sculptor Franz West is showing in its most comprehensive American survey to date in “Franz West, To Build a House You Start with the Roof: Work 1972 -2008” at the Baltimore Museum of Art.

The show opens with “The Ego and The Id” (2008), made especially for this exhibition. The sculpture’s two giant looping aluminum structures fill the museum’s atrium — one in a mix of playful colors, the other a medicinal pink — ending in small stools for visitors’ use.

Much of West’s work invites his audience to interact with his pieces — pick them up, act out or relax and take a seat. Should you grow bored, some of West’s work offers newspapers placed throughout. You don’t see West’s art as much as you dare to play with it.

Born in 1947 in Vienna, West came of age during Actionism, a radical art movement that involved provocative performance with props like axes and bodily fluids. His works challenge the way people experience art in a museum and invite audiences to bring their own lives and issues directly into the works. The wall of posters behind the opening piece even required staff to roll dice and flip coins to determine their placement.

(Narrated slide show: View photos and listen to curator Darsie Alexander talk about the work of Franz West.)

West’s show also features collages — painted advertisements, magazine and pornographic images adjusted for comedic effect. Women hold a variety of raw meats; sausages and pickles peek out of male slacks. There is child-like playfulness in his choice of materials as well. Raised by a dentist mother and a coal merchant father, West often pilfered materials from his mother’s dental supplies such as gauze and tape.

Spanning over 117 objects, including three large large-scale outdoor installations, West’s comprehensive show will close in Baltimore on Jan. 4. His works then travels to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art for an exhibition between March 15 and June 7.

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