<div class="chapeau">THE PINAULT COLLECTION IS CONTRIBUTING THREE WORKS BY FRANZ WEST TO HIS CAREER RETROSPECTIVE AT THE CENTRE POMPIDOU AND TATE MODERN, INCLUDING ONE OF HIS MAJOR
WORKS, <i>LEMURENKÖPFE</i> (1992).</div>
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<span class="lieu">CENTRE POMPIDOU / PARIS</span><br>
<span class="lieu">TATE MODERN / LONDRES</span>
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Fondation Vincent van Gogh, Arles
<i>“Since the spirit appeared in the world, since the Word became flesh,” “since then the world has been spiritualized, enchanted, a spook.”</i><br>
<b>Max Stirner,</b><i>The Ego and His Own</i><sup>1</sup>
<span class="alinea"></span>These lemur heads by Franz West are sculptures, though we wouldn’t designate them as ’busts’ in the traditional sense of the word.
Unlike busts, they are presented simply, not on plinths but on frail iron structures.
<span class="alinea"></span>These lemurs are growths of gauze and plaster; the adjectives “unstable” and “misshapen” come to mind when we see them. For heads, they are enormous, and yet we must crouch down to look at them.
We can almost hear their sarcastic lament, and we are inevitably tempted to interpret them based on their physiognomy, trying to decipher their expression.
Perhaps this sensation stems from the fact that they possess a mouth and nostrils, but no eyes. But maybe these are stomachs with mouths?
<span class="alinea"></span>Franz West became interested in depicting lemurs in 1987 and presented his first sculptures of the subject at documenta IX, in 1992.<sup>2</sup>
During the preceding years, he had created his “Passstücke,” objects meant to be touched and manipulated, which West described as prostheses, or neuroses, translated in plastic forms.
Lemurs have recurred as a motif throughout his work ever since.
<span class="alinea"></span> Like his collages, West’s sculptures do not have clearly delimited outlines. We call pareidolia the phenomenon wherein we perceive familiar patterns where none
exists—a silhouette or a face in a cloud or a rock, for instance. In an interview, Franz West explained that this phenomenon was originally what inspired him to create the ’lemurs,’
quoting the title of another sculpture: <i>Spuk der vormals – im Informel – verpönten Semantik.</i><sup>3</sup> Semantics, which had been toppled by abstraction in art, returns as
a ghost in the lemurs. Again, West evokes the writings of Sigmund Freud and Ludwig Wittgenstein. Following this inclination, he adopted a complex, richly allusive
approach in order to push back the boundaries of his creativity; even though the final, elementary result might be a simple table or chair.
<span class="alinea"></span> In German (as in English), the same word “spirit” is used to designate both the soul or inner being, as well as a ghost. West’s lemurs remind the viewer of the Krampus,
a half-goat, half-demon in Alpine folklore; the Gardens of Bomarzo in Northern Italy, the Park of the Monsters; or the <i>Bocca della Verità</i> in antique Rome, whose gaping
mouth, according to medieval lore, would cut off the hands of liars. In roman mythology, lemurs, from the Latin <i>lemures</i>, are specters or ghosts that were exorcised during the Lemuria festival of ancient Rome.
<span class="alinea"></span> West announced in an interview that “depictions of lemurs must be interpreted as negative.” In fact, Karl Kraus, Karl Marx, and before them Goethe, had already
used the word “lemur” as an insult, charged with pejorative societal connotations. In Marx’s work, lemurs work, by night, at thankless tasks. In Kraus, by opting for
a social democracy, lemurs dig their own grave. In Goethe’s <i>Faust,</i> the souls serving Mephistopheles are lemurs. In zoology, lemurs are slender lorises, with their
huge, reflective eyes. In the 1960s German sciencefiction series Perry Rhodan, Man’s ancestors inhabit the planet Lemur.
<span class="alinea"></span> A slogan from the German student movement of 1968, “Unter den Talaren - der Muff von tausend Jahren” (under the toga, a millennium of rot), also comes to
mind. It was aimed at the sclerotic social cast of lemurs, the professors still infatuated with national socialism, and alluded to the Nazi Reich. It called for German
society to begin confronting the scars of the Second World War.
1 — In David Leopold, ed., <i>Stirner</i>: <i>The Ego and Its Own</i> (Cambridge Texts in the History of Political Thought, Cambridge University Press, 1995), p. 36.<br>
2 — Initially, Austrian architect Hermann Czech had asked West to create bridgeheads for the Kleine Ungarbrücke bridge over the Wien river. It wasn’t
until 2001 that, spearheaded by the MAK, West’s four <i>Larven (Lemurenköpfe),</i> three meters tall, in aluminum, painted white, were permanently installed on
the Stuben bridge, in the Wiener Stadtpark.<br>
3 — <i>Visite (Spuk der vormals – im Informel – verpönten Semantik)</i> is a work by West from 1987, reproduced in the catalogue of his exhibition at Kunsthalle Bern in
1988 (Johannes Schlebrügge and Ines Turian, <i>Franz West, Gesammelte Gespräche und Interviews [Franz West: Collected Conversation and Interviews],</i> Cologne: König Editions, 2005, p. 23).