Sarah Lucas first met Franz West in the early 2000s when he asked her to contribute to a show he was putting together at the Austrian Cultural Institute. They remained friends, and often mischievous collaborators, up until his death in 2012. The last time I saw them together was in the grand lecture theatre of the Royal Institution when they were joined by West’s friend Andreas Reiter Raabe, ostensibly to deliver a talk on art and music. Here, they roundly subverted the formal setting with much drinking, laughter and intermittent blasts of instrumental sound provided by the musician Philipp Quehenberger, which drowned out the few words that could be deciphered. This free-form playful spirit was not to the taste of all the audience members and I recall a fair number of huffy walkings-out.
Matters were more sanguine at yesterday’s opening of the Tate Modern’s major Franz West survey (until 2 June), where Sarah Lucas’s design of plinths, walls and overall input has played a major part in shaping the look of the show, which has been organised by Mark Godfrey, the Tate Modern’s curator of contemporary art. Sitting on a jazzily covered Franz West sofa at yesterday’s preview, Godfrey and his artist-collaborator were musing that the last and pretty much only other time when an artist has been so directly involved in a Tate show was in 1966, when Richard Hamilton curated an exhibition of Marcel Duchamp show at the then-Tate Gallery on Millbank.
“It’s a lovely precedent and there was the same relationship of real respect for each other’s work as we now see with Sarah and Franz—this is a great follow-up, and with a urinal linking everything together”, declared Godfrey. He then gestured to an adjacent wall pasted with a blown-up photograph of West’s multicoloured Duchamp-homage pissoir Etude de Couleur (1991), which he had apparently initially attempted to get installed on the roof of the Tate Modern. Lucas's love of sanitary-ware is also of course well known, with one of her urine-coloured resin-cast toilet sculptures residing in the Tate’s collection.
At the Tate Modern, West’s sculptures look utterly at home on the gritty, Lucas-designed breezeblock and painted MDF plinths which she describes as solving her “pedestal problem”. She’s even managed to Franz-Westify the protective rope-barriers that are such a curatorial bugbear by wrapping their uprights in gaffer tape and painting them in the distinctive shades of pink, blue, green and yellow that appear in so many of West’s works, saying, “I thought that was what Franz would say—oh just paint them!”
She also seems to have had West’s voice in her ear by making her own personal and provocative homage to his Rosa (Farbstudie) (2008)—the hundred pink paint-filled eggs that were made to be thrown against a wall. Lucas is no mean egg-slinger herself, with many eggy references—broken and otherwise—throughout her own oeuvre. She has also made her mark by unleashing her own pink-painterly missile, which now dribbles down one of the gallery walls, with another eggy splat marking the exhibition's entrance. It’s an apt christening of her late friend’s show, and an expression of their shared desire to puncture any institutional pomposity by literally putting egg on its face.