Franz Erhard Walther is unquestionably one of the most influential artists of recent decades. Scarcely any other artist has been able to change the definition of what sculpture can be, with such foresight and consequence as Walther has done. Through his participative objects and textile sculptures, he has subjected the understanding of art and the relationship between art and the observer to a fundamental re-evaluation and amplification. Not least, also through his teaching engagement over many years, he has inspired many contemporary artists. The ZKM | Museum of Contemporary Art is now showing for the first time, in the framework of this year’s central exhibition theme of performativity, a large part of Franz Erhard Walther's »Stride Plinths« accompanied by the complete series of »Stand Pieces« that are presented for the first time along with a selection of early photographs, as well as large-format drawings.
Already in his early photographic works at the end of the 1950s, Franz Erhard Walther began to further the discourse on the definition of sculpture set forth by Marcel Duchamp. The relationship between art, artist, and observer shifted into the focus of artistic creation and the role of the art consumer was questioned by inviting their interaction. Long before artists such as Bruce Nauman, among others, used their own bodies as a sculptural medium, Walther has already put himself and the audience into the work as sculptural »material«.
After completing his studies with K. O. Götz, Franz Erhard Walther set out in 1967 for New York. Just two years later, at an exhibition in New York’s MoMA, he showed his legendary »1. Werksatz« – a 58-part work, that today belongs to the museum’s collection. Fundamentally new in his works of the 1960s was the involvement of the observer, formerly condemned to contemplation only, into the sculptural process. The exhibition visitor was given the possibility of using the works, which were made of textile materials. The artist presented the works in the exhibition as »offers«, which could be unfolded, newly arranged, or stretched in between several visitors. According to this basic concept, the first publication by Franz Erhard Walther was titled »OBJEKTE, benutzen« [OBJECTS, use] (1968). The book, long out of print, will be republished in a new edition on the occasion of the exhibition at ZKM | Museum of Contemporary Art.
The active engagement with an artistic offer, experiencing haptics of fabrics and materials, the responsiveness of one’s own physicality and the resulting action in the room are some of the reasons that Franz Erhard Walther’s work is still today an extraordinary contribution to contemporary art. His work can be seen as a synthesis of Process art, Minimal art, and Conceptual art and stands in dialogue with numerous prominent positions within contemporary art.