Franz Erhard Walther
Franz Erhard Walther (b. 1939) is a pioneer of participatory art. Having begun his studies at the Werkkunstschule in Offenbach, in 1959 he transferred to the Städel School in Frankfurt. He soon lost interest in painting, looking instead to 'go back to the starting point, where nothing is yet formed, to where form first begins.' His radical view of the 'informel' ultimately led to his expulsion from the school, and he switched to Düsseldorf Art Academy in 1962. As a professor at the University of Fine Arts of Hamburg (HFBK), Walther helped to shape important artists of later generations. In 2016 he was awarded the Art Prize Aachen, which included a solo exhibition at the Ludwig Forum in Aachen. At Manifesta 2016 in Zurich, waiters at the Park Hyatt Hotel wore his orange-colored 'Half Vests'. In 2017, a major retrospective of his work was held at the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía in Madrid. In the same year, he was awarded a Golden Lion for best artist at the central exhibition of the 57th Venice Biennale.
Walther transformed traditional ideas of work and material by making processes the foundation of his concept of work: action became the 'form of the work'. He developed objects from cotton fabric, foam and wood, creating textile-based sculptures with variable form. From 1963 to 1969, Walther made usable objects; after 1969, the action question became more relative (2. Werksatz, Second Workset), with increasingly hypothetical possibilities for action. His 'wall formations' are sculptural works with strongly pictorial qualities, which invite the spectator to discover the plasticity of sculptural material.
Handlungskörper (Action Body), 1969 (4), cotton fabric; photo: Uwe Walther, © (Franz Erhard Walther) VG Bild-Kunst Bonn, 2017
A book sewed together from cotton becomes an 'Action Body'. It is as if the book is tailored to a precisely stipulated 'choreography', outlining how it is to be used and the patterns of movement to be combined with it. Its measurements are derived from the human body. But the individual retains freedom of decision in the interaction, the body must respond and act. The book is 'readable' with the entire body: its meaning depends on the use the individual makes of it. The book was designed so the spectator could unfold and lie down inside them. These days, that interaction with the work is only possible in special circumstances; nonetheless, the qualities of openness and unfinishedness remain highly significant.