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Repainted, Sitzwuste sculptures retain ability to soothe and insult

Franz West’s Sitzwuste (2000) — three sausage-shaped aluminum sculptures designed as sitting spaces — are back, but with a big change. The 13-foot pieces were reinstalled on Friday on the Walker hillside near the entrance to James Turrell’s Sky Pesher. Although they don’t have the garish neon enamel they did when they were first installed in the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden 11 years ago, they still possess the potential — as West has said — to “insult” their idyllic surroundings.

Sitzwuste shortly after installation on Sept. 16, 2011.

Franz West’s Sitzwuste (2000) — three sausage-shaped aluminum sculptures designed as sitting spaces — are back, but with a big change. The 13-foot pieces were reinstalled on Friday on the Walker hillside near the entrance to James Turrell’s Sky Pesher. Although they don’t have the garish neon enamel they did when they were first installed in the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden 11 years ago, they still possess the potential — as West has said — to “insult” their idyllic surroundings.

In their previous incarnation the works were neon yellow, orange and pink, part of the artist’s wish to appear unnatural in an outdoor setting. “I wanted to insult the taste of nature,” West has said, “but then I was carried away by something I perceived to be beautiful.”

Even in less eye-popping colors — the works are now pale pink, green and orange, colors less likely to fade in the sun — they retain the possibility of insult.

Detail of the surfaces of the three pieces

West deliberately made the seams on the aluminum pronounced to avoid the pristine perfection manufactured objects often have and to make them appear hand-made. Then there’s the shape. The biomorphic design fits the works’ name, which is a nonsensical neologism created by West; it combines the German word for seat (sitz) with words meaning bulge (wulst) and sausage (wurst).

But some observers see the shape as more… biological. Frieze‘s Jan Verwoert, for instance, describes the “primal shape” as “a cross between a worm, a dildo and a turd.”

He’s not off the mark with that last one, according to Walker assistant curator Bartholomew Ryan, who collaborated on the reinstallation of Sitzwuste with curator Betsy Carpenter.

“That is certainly one way to think of them,” he says. “When installing the pieces, I was kind of thinking of a giant dog walking over the field leaving things behind without regard for aesthetic concerns as to placement.”

“Having said that, there is some strategy there, which will become obvious to people who view the works from inside the Fiterman lobby, where they are framed by a very open curtain window,” he continued. “That dynamic relationship between inside and outside is an important feature of the Herzog & de Meuron expansion, and I think we pursue it well here. What I like about these works is how responsive they are to environment. I am looking forward to seeing them change with the snow, and then the spring and summer. Let’s not forget also, people can sit on them. They are actually pretty comfortable.”

And that links back to the excremental interpretation of the series. Interested in the link between sculpture and furniture, West has long made oblong works meant to be sat on. “Thinking about places to put your butt,” says Walker chief curator Darsie Alexander, “has been an instrumentalizing force in his art, which makes the scatological references even more relevant.”