Exhibition view from the street
1 / 60
Exhibition view from the street
Franz Erhard Walther
Nov 6, 2010–Feb 11, 2011

The work of Franz Erhard Walther has attracted critical attention since the mid 1960s. It becomes increasingly apparent not only how much he contributed to the development of an action-oriented concept of art in the second half of the 20th century, but also how his position continues to serve younger artists as inspiration. The notion that one is permitted to look at art but not touch it, that there is some impregnable boundary between a work of art and our physical selves, our demeanor, our social roles, continues to provoke opposition. Walther was one of the forerunners in this protest, an exponent of a relational aesthetic avant la lettre, one that takes into account the physical nature of the work of art on a substantial level.

Walther’s work has been included in four documenta exhibitions. Since 1963 he has consistently championed the concept of sculpture as performance and participation, the notion that art is a collaborative event in which artist and public contribute on an equal footing. For Walther the “meaning” of a work has always been primarily what results from this collaboration, not something to be discovered through detached and solitary contemplation. His uncomplicated, straightforward objects and installations address their viewers with partly tactile, partly intellectual stimuli; they trigger the temptation to act, the desire to experience things in a physical way, and question their viewers’ positions in space and in relation to each other. As evolved over the last five decades, Walther’s oeuvre presents an exemplary variety of methodological approaches. It also illustrates the difficulties faced by any form of art that hopes for participation on the part of the public, with the intention of making the appreciation of art a more collective, even democratic enterprise.

Our exhibition reprises some central themes and approaches in Walther’s work from the late 1950s to the present.
   • We present the artist’s variant of a minimalist aesthetic that we have chosen to call “PARTICIPATORY MINIMALISM” (KOW ISSUE 1, 2009) as a way of distinguishing it from the canon of American Minimalist Art. In the period of early Minimalism, Walther conceived works similar in form but substantially different in intention. His sculptures, though intended as exhibition pieces, induce in viewers a desire to manipulate them and become physically involved. At the same time, the viewer’s actual participation is itself expected to be minimal.
   • We trace how Walther first questioned the confinement of the picture support and then transcended it between 1960 and 1963. His “escape from the picture” is apparent as an interest in open, flexible framing situations. The objects stitched out of fabric from his “First Work Set” (1963–69) can be seen as the conceptual and sculptural consequence of this search for a sustainably dynamic dimension in his plastic work, one that also characterizes his architectonic space modules of the 1970s. For the first time the stitching technique itself, developed by the artist beginning in 1963 and realized by Johanna Walther, is illuminated more precisely.
   • Ever since he first practiced typography at the School of Applied Art in Offenbach, one of Walther’s primary interests has been the formal organization of language, the design of text and idea. From the “Word Pictures” (1957–58) up to the “New Alphabet” from the years 1990–96, we illustrate how Walther’s aesthetic program continuously mediates between pictorial space (in drawing and sculpture), textual space (including book space), as well as the physical space of the active subject, and questions how they are interrelated.

The exhibition includes some thirty works–supplemented by documentary pictorial material–from various phases of the artist’s oeuvre. In cooperation with INTERNATIONALES JUGENDKUNST- UND KULTURHAUS SCHLESISCHE27 we invite Berlin teenagers to handle individual pieces of Walther’s and discuss them publicly. Please ask about times.

Curating, exhibition design, text and photos: Alexander Koch
Translation: Gerrit Jackson