Sculptor extraordinaire Franz West has died

Franz West, who has died peacefully at the age of 65 in Vienna, was one of the most gifted artists of his generation, a sculptural japer whose works often exuded a wisecracking air of mischievousness.
The news of the Austrian’s death was announced in a joint statement from his eponymous foundation, the Gagosian Gallery, Galerie Meyer Kainer and Galerie Eva Presenhuber. He had been battling a long illness.
“Despite his international fame, his humour, generosity and quiet energy never left him,” the statement read. “He managed his recent illness with great fortitude and was thinking of projects and working on exhibitions, sculptures and catalogues until a few days ago.
“The world has lost a great artist who changed the way people looked at art and themselves. His great sense of originality and his generosity with other artists, writers and musicians will be missed by us all.”
West’s fame emanated from his vivid exploration of form through papier-mâché and wire, which though often lofty and abstract, were designed to be engaged with. They might have frequently appeared to be flippant, devoid of an intellectual rationale and blithe, but they had real depth and can be considered to be a true definition of iconoclasm: the destroyer of conventional wisdom.
“Despite his aesthetic of clumsiness and his continuing dialogue with the great Austrian father figure, Sigmund Freud, he is not one of the confessional, blood-and-guts, let-it-all-hang-out screamers of whom there seem to be no end in contemporary Austrian and West German art,” the critic Michael Brenson wrote in 1989, in a review of West’s show Possibility.
“If Mr West’s work has the touchy-feely intimacy of a weekend encounter group, it also has the macabre geniality of a medieval Passion play and the detachment of a dandy. The tone is elusive.”
That is very true. He could be quite a serious man, the impulse for his often amusing, befuddling and colourful works stemming from something darker, as he once explained: “By nature I tend to be depressive, thus I always try to make something more euphoric, even if that fails.”
Nevertheless, he was described by those closest to him – friends, family, students and fans – as a charming artist, whose ideas were influential and nourishing. His very human qualities, genial and sociable, made him incredibly likeable as an individual. He certainly was one of a kind in the world of art.
Though clearly inventive, did this originality extend into his work? Was he a real pioneer? From a certain vantage he undoubtedly was. In embracing bustle, movement and energy, art as a motion, taking the passivity of form and making it tick, so to speak, West, as part of the fleeting Viennese Actionism movement, revelled in impossible behaviour.
However, some would disagree that he was revolutionary. The New York Times’ Robert Smith wrote: “[He] was less a strikingly original artist who changed the course of art than an astute synthesizer and incisive adjuster.
“He operated on a parallel course to contemporary art, commenting and satirising, creating a vast multimedia universe that fomented an active mingling of painting, sculpture, collage, furniture and even works (most of which he owned) by the artists he admired.”
In 2011, in recognition of his life’s work and commitment to art, he was awarded the Golden Lion at the Venice Biennale. West is survived by his wife Tamuna Sirbiladze, a Georgian artist, their two children, and his sister Anne Gutjar.