The University of Chicago

Creating an Exciting Cultural Destination

Showcasing a Groundbreaking
Contemporary Artist

In October 2008, the BMA opened the first comprehensive survey in the United States of the groundbreaking contemporary artist Franz West. West has exhibited internationally for more than three decades and been featured in major festivals, including Documenta IX and X and the Venice Biennale. The BMA’s exhibition brought together rarely seen examples of the artist’s work from European and American museums, galleries, and private collections to showcase 117 objects that reflected West’s innovations in sculpture, design, and on paper.

In the planning stages for many years, Franz West, To Build a House You Start with the Roof: Work, 1972–2008 brought national attention and new visitors to the BMA. Its impact continued to reverberate as the BMA-organized exhibition traveled to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and The Ego and the Id was featured in New York’s Central Park. A major exhibition catalogue, published by MIT Press, continues to highlight the BMA’s role in raising awareness of this important artist.

Visitors were intrigued by the range of works presented—from early interactive pieces from the 1970s to two enormous, brightly colored objects created for this exhibition. The 30-foot tall Ego and the Id was inspired by the soaring ceiling of the BMA’s first Thalheimer Gallery. The gallery’s size allowed the artist to explore in three dimensions some visual motifs that had always interested him, but which he’d never had the opportunity to develop in his sculpture on this scale.

To encourage visitors to interact with West’s wildly innovative, supersized, and provocative art, the BMA developed a range of exciting programs. Art guides for the exhibition, dubbed “Friends of Franz,” took a hands-on approach to helping visitors experience the groundbreaking work in the exhibition. Sound Off! challenged DJs, experimental musicians, poets, and other spoken-word artists to respond creatively and post their responses to A festive ArtBlast! event introduced families to the exhibition with a fun-filled day of performances, art-making, and gallery activities.

Throughout its run, this exciting exhibition drew the attention of national media, and visitors from 44 states and 48 countries—43 percent were new visitors to the BMA.

Art Credits