Franz Erhard Walther

Vera Munro/Fridericianum

In 1964, the exhibition of Franz Erhard Walther’s work in Fulda was greeted with great excitement. Today, 30 years later, Veir Loers, the director of the Fridericianum, remembers that exhibition as a “model for the ideas of minimal art, conceptual art, and concrete poetry.” For this reason he reconstructed this early exhibition, using mostly the original works shown in ’64, for the show he mounted at Kassel entitled “Sieben Werkgesaenge” (Seven work songs).

In a rectangular room with a window right off the entrance, there was a square delineated by a ten-meter-long string in the rear right-hand corner. This bordered an empty room, in which a yellow box seemed to float, while against the back wall stood a five-part cushion sculpture made of chamois paper and filled with air. Also against the back wall hung a two-meter-long “flag of words” such as “orgasm,” “Ovid,” “ Pope,” “penis,” all in alphabetical order. It billowed onto the floor and, like the string, formed its own imaginary space enriched by language. On the windowsill lay a text that raised questions about art, entire sections of which had been painted over in house paint so that one could only make our nonsensical sentence fragments. In the center of the room stood two paper cushions filled with air, the very pieces that caused so much controversy in the Fulda show.

Today it is difficult to understand the excitement associated with these works 30 years ago, now that such an approach to artmaking and to display has become widespread. That Walther’s work enraged the viewing public shows how far we have come since then and what a large role Walther has played in that development. He extended the principles of informel painting to sculpture: materials suddenly became image-bearing themselves and were transformed into objects through their intrusion into space. Materials were expressive; their physical characteristics determined the artistic process. His most recent sculptures, on view at the Galerie Vera Munro during the museum show, demonstrate that his interest in sculpture has continued to evolve. These cloth sculptures addressed the question Walther has been pursuing since he dispensed with fixed forms: What is the relationship between contemporary sculpture and the human body? This is a question still hotly debated today, but one that goes back to the very origins of sculpture.

Noemi Smolik

Translated from the German by Charles V. Miller.