MAMCO musée d ́art moderne et contemporain

Franz Erhard Walther

17 Oct 2012 - 20 Jan 2013

© Franz Erhard Walther
Plans, 2011
Coll. de l’artiste
17 October 2012 - 20 January 2013

As far as Franz Erhard Walther is concerned, drawing is both a structuring act and a compulsive one: structuring because it is an integral part of his work, which it precedes, accompanies and recapitulates by turns, and compulsive because he has always drawn (even before he began studying art) and over the years has built up a vast corpus that is now numbered in the tens of thousands. Plans reveals a very special facet of his graphic work.

In winter 2010, Mamco presented a vast retrospective of Walther ’s work entitled De l’origine de la sculpture, 1958-2009 (“On the origin of sculpture, 1958-2009”), which included both drawings and sculptures. This occupied the whole of the museum building: forty rooms on all four floors. Once the exhibition was installed, Walther drew the hanging and installation plans for each of these rooms on ordinary sheets of paper, precisely measuring the distances between each room, reproducing their position in space with equal precision and noting all their titles, thus giving his retrospective a meticulous graphic existence. Then, back in his studio, he turned these topographical records into huge drawings, new plans that are works in their own right, and a separate version of the exhibition, which they reproduce in all its twists and turns — a total of forty-four drawings, one for each room and one showing how the works were distributed on each of the four floors. These plans are now on show at Mamco. They are the result of a most unusual process. First, they were created after the event — after the exhibition, and, more specifically, after the work as it was displayed in the museum space (making them the exact opposite of preliminary drawings, which anticipate the creation of the form). Hence they are a kind of retrospective of a retrospective, but a graphic one in which volumes and materials — so important in Walther’s sculptural work — are treated as flat elements, the colours in each object (which are equally striking in his art) being reproduced just as they are. Their delayed impact, which is visually apparent, thus turns them quite naturally into memory drawings, graphic mnemonics, traces of what has been, a recording of the past which, above all by being publicly exhibited, becomes a tribute — an unassuming monument — that is devoid of nostalgia for something that will never be repeated. At the same time, they explicitly provide a highly unusual cartography of the work: as we look at these plans we can see Walther’s work, but without really perceiving its details and specific implications. And even if this a panoramic — and, to a degree, exhaustive — view of several years of creative effort, it is nonetheless partial, for it is truncated: it cannot replace the physical, spatial, bodily experience of the sculpture. If we look closely at these pieces, we can see a very natural blend of signs (words, titles, phrases, numbers) and traces (lines, patches of colour, shadows); for graphic work is as much a matter of visibility as it is a problem of readability. What is more, these exhibition drawings turn the exhibition itself into the very substance of art: it becomes its subject, its motif, for the way in which the sculpture is displayed is part of its identity. To Walther — but not just to him — form entirely depends on how it is conveyed in space; in truly Modernist fashion, the museum itself can become the work of art. Finally, this graphic atlas is emblematic of the place that drawing occupies in Walther’s life; since it has been part of it from the very outset, under various names, everything — including a retrospective — was bound to end with it. Drawing has the last word, and Walther uses a wide variety of terms to classify it. Thus there are word pictures (Wortbilder), line, dot and marking drawings (Linien-, Punkt- und Markierungszeichnungen) and cut-up drawings (Schnittzeichnungen). In this vocabulary, the Plans, the exhibition drawings, take on the cartographic role.

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

* This English translation has been provided with the support of the J.P. Morgan Private Bank.

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