Franz West, ‘Paukenschlag’, 2009, Sotheby's: Contemporary Art Day Auction

Sculpture: 53 by 30 by 20 in. (134.6 by 76.2 by 50.8 cm.)
Plinth: 19 3/4 by 19 3/4 by 19 3/4 in. (50.2 by 50.2 by 50.2 cm.)

From the Catalogue

"There is a distinct look to West's work that defies quick visual digestion. Fundamentally sculptural in construction, it veers frequently towards the biomorphic and the prosthetic, mines the intellectualism of Freud and Wittgenstein, and possesses an awkward beauty that speaks with equal fluency to the aesthetics of painterly abstraction and trash art...[W]ith its alternately crumbly or sleek surfaces, the work beckons human touch in an environment where such demonstrative reactions are strictly forbidden." Darsie Alexander in Exh. Cat., The Baltimore Museum of Art, Franz West, To Build a House You Start With the Roof: Work 1972-2008, 2008, p. 49

The title of the present work Paukenschlag refers to Joseph Haydn’s famous Symphony No. 94, often referred to in German as "mit dem Paukenschlag” (“with the kettledrum stroke" or '‘Surprise Symphony"), which references the sudden fortissimo chord at the end of the otherwise calm and rhythmic piano opening theme in the variation-form second movement. This sudden bombastic break with the soothing melody typifies the subtle musical gamesmanship for which Haydn is best known. Franz West was drawn to this piece of music for its particular qualities that he felt were important in his own work: playfulness and irreverence for tradition and hierarchy. This was typical of Hadyn’s music and this mischievousness is emphatically present in the work of Franz West.

Emerging in the early 1970s, Austrian-born artist Franz West developed a unique aesthetic that engaged equally high and low reference points and often privileged social interaction as an intrinsic component of his work. In Paukenschlag, for example, one finds a reference to the music of Hadyn combined with the more rambunctious physical qualities of the sculpture made of painted papier-mâché. By playfully manipulating everyday materials and imagery in novel ways, West created objects that serve to redefine art as a social experience, calling attention to the way in which art is presented to the public, and how viewers interact with works of art and with each other. West’s sculptures are often on pedestals or stands that are part of the work, which helps connect the piece to its actual space and removes another barrier between the artwork and the viewer. His haphazard painterly treatment of his piece’s surface also strives to make his sculpture more approachable than sacrosanct. It is this dedication to redefining the approach to art a viewer can have into something more active and playful that has rightfully given West his reputation as one of the most innovative sculptors of the past forty years.

Courtesy of Sotheby's

Eisenstadt, Esterházy Palace, Haydn Explosive - A European Career at the Court of Esterhazy, September 2009 - November 2010, p. 210

Kainer Meyer Gallery, Vienna
Acquired from the above by the present owner

About Franz West

Franz West's work is influenced by the action and performance art of the 1960s, including Vienna's Actionism movement, in which artists engaged in destructive, violent acts of public behavior. Rejecting the traditional passive way of viewing art, West creates pieces as social experiences, as in his "Adaptives," started in the 1970s, small sculptures meant to be picked up and carried around, and chairs, lamps, and tables that can be moved and used. He is also known for distinctive collages that mix over-painted magazine clippings, ads, and pornographic images to absurdist effect, and bulky sculptures of foam, papier-mâché, cardboard, and objects that reference Expressionist painting.

Austrian, 1947-2012, Vienna, Austria, based in Vienna, Austria