Franz Erhard Walther

April 16, 2021, Dia Beacon

Overview

Franz Erhard Walther is recognized for his five-decade-long investigation into the spatial, sensorial, and temporal dimensions of forms. Radical in his emphasis on process rather than product, his participatory sculptures are intrinsically linked to his parallel drawing practice. Reflecting the importance of the body in his sculptural work, the artist’s drawings also bring focus to the physical act of creation. Spanning 10 years of Walther’s early creative output between the years 1963 and 1973, this collection-based display at Dia Beacon brings together 58 of his working drawings that relate to 1. Werksatz (First Work Set, 1963–69). It was for the First Work Set that Walther first explored the use of simple physical actions—pressing, folding, unfolding, and covering surfaces with malleable materials—as a sculptural principle, reimagining the work of art as an experience of action.

Franz Erhard Walther is made possible, in part, by support from Peter Freeman, Inc.

Seeking to revise the often detached and isolated experience of viewing art, Franz Erhard Walther began to produce a body of fabric sculptures that require “activation” by participating observers in the early 1960s. The first such work, 1. Werksatz (First Work Set, 1963–69), consists of fifty-eight sewn canvas pieces, each designed to be worn, touched, or otherwise interacted with through actions like holding, wearing, or stepping onto or into the fabric elements, often requiring multiple participants. When elements of Walther’s First Work Set are not activated, they are folded, packaged, and stored as a bundle in a manner akin to the ceremonial folding and storing of national flags. The artist refers to these packages as the sculptures’ Lagerform (storage form).

Walther shares an interest in art’s spatial, sensorial, and temporal dimensions with contemporaries such as Donald Judd, Blinky Palermo, and Richard Serra. Walther’s practice is distinguished by his enlistment of the viewer as an active participant in realizing the work. This interest was sparked by an encounter in 1963 with fabric objects used in tailoring shops, whose ambiguous status between functional supports, aesthetic forms, and garments suggested that sculpture might be reconceived as a bodily adornment. As he explained in a 1966 text: “Although gestures and bodily movements do not relate to anything beyond themselves, they are still tied to the specific course of action that is intended by the piece: remaining in a designated place, with or without direction; movement within the spatial field, with or without direction; time-related, space-related, body-related.”1 His sculptures, in other words, should be thought of as invitations for the viewer to enact specific actions that unfold in relation to the body and often through collaborative engagement.

Shortly after conceiving of the First Work Set, Walther began to make a related series of more than three thousand Werkzeichnungen (Work Drawings, 1963–74), many of which are drawn on both sides of a sheet of paper. In addition to pencil and watercolor, the artist used substances like coffee and oil to permeate the sheets, drawing attention to the paper’s translucency. Like the sculptural elements of the First Work Set, which are equally complete in their activated or stored forms, the Work Drawings resist a single ideal state or function. While the drawings might be thought of, in one sense, as score-like instructions that visualize the intended activities for each element of the First Work Set, Walther emphasizes that their meaning lays beyond a simple illustration of the sculptures’ function. They also demonstrate his interest in text and diagrammatic compositions as artistic form and are considered by the artist to be independent works. For example, in a 1970 letter to the art historian Yve-Alain Bois, Walther specified that he thought of the drawings, which he also refers to as “diagrams,” as “inventions, developments, processes, concepts to be thought of.” 2

—Ian Wallace, Dia’s 2020–21 Andrew W. Mellon curatorial fellow

1 Franz Erhard Walther, “Body, Storage Form” (1966), trans. Jacqueline Todd, in Franz Erhard Walther: The Body Decides, ed. Elena Flipovic (Brussels: WIELS Contemporary Art Center; Cologne: Walther König, 2014), p. 8.

2 Franz Erhard Walther, letter to Yve-Alain Bois, May 17, 1970.

Franz Erhard Walther was born in Fulda, Germany, in 1939. In 1957 he enrolled in the Werkkunstschule Offenbach, West Germany, where he exhibited works on paper that employ hatching, lettering, and cutouts. In 1959 he enrolled at the Hochschule für Bildende Künste in Frankfurt, developing an interest in the frame as a pictorial form and the muslin material normally used to back paintings. From 1962 to 1964 Walther attended the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf, where he became acquainted with Dia collection artists Joseph Beuys, Blinky Palermo, and Gerhard Richter and adopted cotton sewn pieces as his preferred material, producing the initial elements of 1. Werksatz (First Work Set, 1963–69). Walther moved to New York in 1967, residing there until 1973. He was a professor at the Hochschule für bildende Künste in Hamburg from 1971 until 2005. His work was included in the landmark exhibition Live in Your Head: When Attitudes Become Form (Works – Concepts – Processes – Situations – Information) at Kunsthalle Bern in 1969, and he demonstrated his First Work Set in the group exhibition Spaces at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, in 1969–70. He has participated in Documenta (1972, 1977, 1982, and 1987) and has had retrospective exhibitions at the Musée d’art moderne et contemporain, Geneva, Switzerland (2010), and Haus der Kunst, Munich (2020), among others. The exhibition Franz Erhard Walther: Work as Action (2010–12) at Dia:Beacon, New York, marked Walther’s first solo museum show in the United States since 1990.

 

Werkzeichnungen (Work Drawings), 1963–73
Dia Art Foundation 

  1. Stirnstück (Forehead Piece), no. 1, 1963/65
    Graphite, watercolor, and casein paint on paper
  1. Gehstück Sockel (Walking Piece, Plinth), no. 2, 1965/69
    Graphite and watercolor on paper
  1. Ummantelung (Covering), no. 3, 1965/69
    Graphite, casein paint, and oil on typed paper
  1. Beinstück (Leg Piece), no. 4, 1967/71
    Graphite, coffee, casein paint, and oil on paper 
  1. Elfmeterbahn (Eleven Meter Path), no. 5, 1967
    Graphite and watercolor on paper 
  1. Landmaß über Zeichnung (Land Measurement by Drawing), no. 6, 1968
    Graphite, oil, and sepia ink on paper
  1. Feld und Teilung (Field and Division), no. 7, 1971
    Graphite, watercolor, and oil on paper 
  1. Nachtstück (Night Piece), no. 8, 1965
    Graphite, casein paint, and watercolor on paper
  1. Für Hügel und Berge (For Hills and Mountains), no. 9, 1970/71
    Graphite, watercolor, and casein paint on paper
  1. Partitur (Score), no. 10, 1966/69
    Graphite, watercolor, casein paint, and oil on paper
  1. Weste (Vest), no. 11, 1966/69
    Graphite and watercolor on paper 
  1. Blindobjekt (Blind Object), no. 12, 1969
    Graphite, watercolor, and oil on paper 
  1. Fünf (Five), no. 13, 1969/72
    Graphite and watercolor on paper
  1. Sackform und Kappe (Sack and Hood), no. 14, 1967
    Graphite and watercolor on paper 
  1. Sammler, Masse und Verteilung (Collector, Mass and Distribution), no. 15, 1967/70
    Graphite and watercolor on paper 
  1. Mit Richtung (sechs) (With Direction [Six]), no. 16, 1967/68
    Graphite and watercolor on paper
  1. Stoffröhre (Cloth Tube), no. 17, 1967/69
    Graphite, watercolor, and oil on paper
  1. Weg innen außen (Way Inside Outside), no. 18, 1968/69
    Graphite and watercolor on paper
  1. Vorhang (Curtain), no. 19, 1968
    Graphite and casein paint on paper
  1. Versammlung (Gathering), no. 20, 1966/73
    Graphite, watercolor, casein paint, and oil on paper
  1. Vier Felder (Four Fields), no. 21, 1966/69
    Graphite and watercolor on paper
  1. Fallstück 2 x 15 (Falling Piece [15 Canvas Boxes]), no. 22, 1967/69
    Graphite, ink, watercolor, oil, glue-tape, casein paint, and paper on paper 
  1. Zentriert (Centered), no. 23, 1969
    Graphite and watercolor on paper
  1. Kopf zu Kopf über Kopf (Head to Head via Head), no. 24, 1967/69
    Graphite and watercolor on paper
  1. Über Arm (Via Arm), no. 25, 1967/68
    Graphite, watercolor, and casein paint on paper
  1. Kopf Leib Glieder (Head Body Limbs), no. 26, 1969
    Graphite, casein paint, and oil on paper 
  1. Vier Seiten vier Felder (Four Sides Four Fields), no. 27, 1967/68
    Graphite, watercolor, and oil on typed paper 
  1. Gegenüber (Opposite), no. 28, 1967
    Graphite, watercolor, ink, and glue-tape on paper 
  1. Form für Körper (Form for Body), no. 29, 1968
    Graphite, watercolor, and casein paint on paper 
  1. Nähe (Closeness), no. 30, 1968/69
    Graphite and watercolor on paper 
  1. Für Zwei (For Two), no. 31, 1969
    Graphite and watercolor on paper
  1. Kurz vor der Dämmerung (Short Before Twilight), no. 32, 1969
    Ink, watercolor, and oil on typed paper
  1. Plastik—5 Stufen (Sculpture—5 States), no. 33, 1967/69
    Graphite, casein paint, and oil on paper 
  1. Armstück (Arm Piece), no. 34, 1968/70
    Graphite, watercolor, and casein paint on paper 
  1. 28 Standstellen (28 Pocket Segments), no. 35, 1971
    Graphite, watercolor, and oil on paper
  1. Kreuz Verbindungsform (Cross Connecting Form), no. 36, 1967/69
    Graphite and watercolor on paper 
  1. Ort Zeit Innen Außen (Site Time Inside Outside), no. 37, 1967
    Graphite, watercolor, and glue-tape on paper
  1. Rahmen (Zentrum) Wege (Frame [Centre] Ways), no. 38, 1967
    Graphite and watercolor on paper
  1. Sammelobjekt (neun) (For Collecting [Nine]), no. 39, 1969
    Graphite, watercolor, casein paint, and colored pencil on paper
  1. Schlaf (For Lying On), no. 40, 1967/68
    Graphite, watercolor, oil, and casein paint on paper 
  1. Streik (Strike), no. 41, 1967/70
    Graphite, watercolor, and casein paint on paper
  1. Vier Körpergewichte (Four Body Weights), no. 42, 1968/70
    Graphite and watercolor on paper 
  1. Proportionen und Zeit (Proportions and Time), no. 43, 1968/69
    Ink, oil, and watercolor on typed paper 
  1. Strecke Gewicht Form (Distance Weight Form), no. 44, 1969
    Graphite, casein paint, coffee, and watercolor on paper 
  1. 50 x 50 m Kreuz (50 x 50 Cross), no. 45, 1969
    Graphite, watercolor, and coffee on paper 
  1. Sehkanal (Channel of Sight), no. 46, 1969
    Graphite and watercolor on paper 
  1. Annäherung Schritte seitwärts (Approach Steps Sideways), no. 47, 1968/69
    Graphite, watercolor, and oil on paper
  1. Körpergewichte (Body Weights), no. 48, 1968
    Graphite and watercolor on paper 
  1. Sockel, vier Bereiche (Plinth, Four Sections), no. 49, 1969
    Graphite and watercolor on paper
  1. Hülle anfüllen (Case to Be Filled Up), no. 50, 1969/70
    Graphite, watercolor, and casein paint on paper
  1. Ausgangspunkt und Wege (Starting Point and Paths), no. 51, 1969/72
    Graphite, watercolor, and coffee on paper 
  1. Plastisch (Two Sculptures), no. 52, 1969/70
    Graphite, watercolor, and casein paint on paper 
  1. Handstück (Hand Piece), no. 53, 1969
    Graphite, watercolor, and casein paint on paper
  1. Positionen (Positions), no. 54, 1969
    Graphite and watercolor on paper
  1. Gliederung (For Silence), no. 55, 1969/70
    Graphite and watercolor on paper
  1. Linien (Arme/Füße) (Lines [Arms/Feet]), no. 56, 1969
    Graphite and watercolor on paper
  1. Zehn Sockel (Ort Distanz Richtung) (Ten Pedestals [Place Distance Place]), no. 57, 1969/70
    Graphite, watercolor, ink, colored pencil, coffee, and casein paint on paper

  2. Zeit Stelle Dauer Richtung Bezug (Time Place Duration Direction Relation), no. 58, 1969
    Graphite and watercolor on paper

1. Weksatz (First Work Set), 1963–69/2010
Dia Art Foundation

59–65 (stacked, from top to bottom):

  1. Partitur (Score), no. 10, 1965
    Cotton canvas, oilcloth, paint, cotton cord, button, 60 small everyday objects, and cotton bag with graphite
  1. Annäherung Schritte seitwärts (Approach Steps Sideways), no. 47, 1968
    Cotton canvas and cotton bag with graphite 
  1. Armstück (Arm Piece), no. 34, 1967
    Cotton canvas and cotton bag with graphite
  1. Linien (Arme/Füße) (Lines [Arms/Feet]), no. 56, 1969
    Cotton canvas, sateen, and cotton bag with graphite
  1. Stoffröhre (Cloth Tube), no. 17, 1966
    Sateen and cotton bag with graphite
  1. Ummantelung (Covering), no. 3, 1964
    Cotton canvas, foam rubber, and cotton bag with graphite 

  2. Fünf (Five), no. 13, 1966
    Cotton canvas, foam rubber, and cotton bag with graphite

66–72 (stacked, from top to bottom):

  1. Plastik—5 Stufen (Sculpture—5 States), no. 33, 1967
    Cotton canvas, straw, and cotton bag with graphite
  1. Sackform und Kappe (Sack and Hood), no. 14, 1966
    Cotton canvas, foam rubber, and cotton bag with graphite 
  1. Streik (Strike), no. 41, 1967
    Cotton canvas and cotton bag with graphite 
  1. Form für Körper (Form for Body), no. 29, 1967
    Cotton canvas and cotton bag with graphite 
  1. Vorhang (Curtain), no. 19, 1966
    Cheesecloth, foam rubber, wood, and cotton bag with graphite
  1. Gehstück, Sockel (Walking Piece, Plinth), no. 2, 1963–64
    Cotton canvas, foam rubber, wood, cotton cord, plastic, metal, zipper, and cotton bag with graphite
  1. Zentriert (Centered), no. 23, 1967
    Cotton canvas, foam rubber, and cotton bag with graphite
  1. Weste (Vest), no. 11, 1965
    Cotton canvas, foam rubber, glue, and cotton bag with graphite

74–81 (stacked, from top to bottom): 

  1. Kreuz Verbindungsform (Cross Connecting Form), no. 36, 1967
    Cotton canvas and cotton bag with graphite
  1. Nähe (Closeness), no. 30, 1967
    Cheesecloth, fiberboard, leather, and cotton bag with graphite
  1. Plastisch (Two Sculptures), no. 52, 1969
    Cotton canvas and cotton bag with graphite
  1. Kopf Leib Glieder (Head Body Limbs), no. 26, 1967
    Cotton canvas and cotton bag with graphite
  1. Blindobjekt (Blind Object), no. 12, 1966
    Cotton canvas, foam rubber, and cotton bag with graphite
  1. Hülle anfüllen (Case to Be Filled Up), no. 50, 1969
    Cotton canvas, foam rubber, and cotton bag with graphite
  1. Schlaf (For Lying On), no. 40, 1967
    Cotton canvas, foam rubber, and cotton bag with graphite
  1. Sockel, vier Bereiche (Plinth, Four Sections), no. 49, 1969
    Cotton canvas and cotton bag with graphite 

82–91 (stacked, from top to bottom):

  1. Positionen (Positions), no. 54, 1969
    Cotton canvas and cotton bag with graphite 
  1. Zehn Sockel (Ort Distanz Richtung) (Ten Pedestals [Place Distance Direction]), no. 57, 1969
    Cotton canvas, cotton cord, and cotton bag with graphite 
  1. Vier Felder (Four Fields), no. 21, 1966
    Cotton canvas and cotton bag with graphite
  1. Sammelobjekt (neun) (For Collecting [Nine]), no. 39, 1967
    Cotton canvas and cotton bag with graphite
  1. 28 Standstellen (28 Pocket Segments), no. 35, 1967
    Cotton canvas and cotton bag with graphite
  1. Sehkanal (Channel of Sight), no. 46, 1968
    Cotton canvas and cotton bag with graphite
  1. Versammlung (Gathering), no. 20, 1966
    Cotton fabric, foam rubber, and cotton bag with graphite 
  1. Für Zwei (For Two), no. 31, 1967
    Cotton canvas and cotton bag with graphite
  1. Vier Körpergewichte (Four Body Weights), no. 42, 1968
    Cotton canvas and cotton bag with graphite 
  1. Kurz vor der Dämmerung (Short Before Twilight), no. 32, 1967
    Cotton canvas and cotton bag with graphite 
  1. Für Hügel und Berge (For Hills and Mountains), no. 9, 1965
    Cotton canvas, foam rubber, leather, metal, glue, and cotton bag with graphite
  1. Landmaß über Zeichnung (Land Measurement by Drawing), no. 6, 1964
    Cotton canvas, cotton cord, cotton string, wood, flashlight, tin with powder, pocket watch, and cotton bag with graphit 
  1. Elfmeterbahn (Eleven Meter Path), no. 5, 1964
    Cheesecloth, foam rubber, cotton fabric, and cotton bag with graphite

95–100 (stacked, from top to bottom): 

  1. 50 x 50 m Kreuz (50 x 50 m Cross), no. 45, 1968
    Cheesecloth, linoleum, and cotton bag with graphite
  1. Rahmen (Zentrum) Wege (Frame [Center] Ways), no. 38, 1967
    Cotton canvas and cotton bag with graphite
  1. Über Arm (Via Arm), no. 25, 1967
    Cotton canvas and cotton bag with graphite
  1. Ausgangspunkt und Wege (Starting Point and Paths), no. 51, 1969
    Cotton canvas and cotton bag with graphite
  1. Körpergewichte (Body Weights), no. 48, 1969
    Cotton canvas and cotton bag with graphite
  1. Kopf zu Kopf über Kopf (Head to Head via Head), no. 24, 1967
    Cotton canvas and cotton bag with graphite
  1. Strecke Gewicht Form (Distance Weight Form), no. 44, 1968
    Cotton canvas, wood, metal, foam rubber, and cotton bag with graphite

102–04 (stacked, from top to bottom) 

  1. Proportionen und Zeit (Proportions and Time), no. 43, 1968
    Cotton canvas, wood, and cotton bag with graphite 
  1. Gliederung (For Silence), no. 55, 1969
    Cotton canvas, wood, and cotton bag with graphite
  1. Mit Richtung (sechs) (With Direction [Six]), no. 16, 1966
    Cotton canvas and cotton bag with graphite
  1. Weg innen außen (Way Inside Outside), no. 18, 1966
    Cotton canvas, radio, cotton wool, and cotton bag with graphite 
  1. Handstück (Hand Piece), no. 53, 1969
    Cotton canvas, wood, and cotton bag with graphite

107–09 (stacked, from top to bottom): 

  1. Nachtstück (Night Piece), no. 8, 1965
    Cotton fabric, foam rubber, wax candles, and cotton bag with graphite
  1. Gegenüber (Opposite), no. 28, 1967
    Cotton canvas, cotton string, and cotton bag with graphite
  1. Zeit Stelle Dauer Richtung Bezug (Time Place Duration Direction Relation), no. 58, 1969
    Cotton canvas, wood, and cotton bag with graphite

110 and 66 (stacked, from top to bottom):

  1. Ort Zeit Innen Außen (Site Time Inside Outside), no. 37, 1967
    Cotton canvas, wood, cotton fabric, tin with sugar, clock, and cotton bag with graphite 
  1. Plastik—5 Stufen (Sculpture—5 States), no. 33, 1967
    Cotton canvas, wood, and cotton bag with graphite
  1. Vier Seiten vier Felder (Four Sides Four Fields), no. 27, 1967
    Cotton fabric, wood, metal, book, handsaw, spray can, bag with foam rubber, and cotton bag with graphite
  1. Stirnstück (Forehead Piece), no. 1, 1963
    Velvet, cotton fabric, foam rubber, wood, and cotton bag with graphite 
  1. Fallstück 2 x 15 (Falling Piece [15 Canvas Boxes]), no. 22, 1967
    Cotton canvas and cotton bag with graphite
  1. Feld und Teilung (Field and Division), no. 7, 1964
    Cotton fabric, foam rubber, cotton string, and cotton bag with graphite
  1. Beinstück (Leg Piece), no. 4, 1964
    Cotton fabric and cotton bag with graphite
  1. Sammler, Masse und Verteilung (Collector, Mass and Distribution), no. 15, 1966
    Cotton canvas, wood, metal, cotton cord, and cotton bag with graphite

 

Artist

Franz Erhard Walther

Franz Erhard Walther was born in Fulda, Germany, in 1939, where he currently lives and works.

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