The three-dimensional works by German artist Franz Erhard Walther are characterized by ordinary, everyday materials (such as dyed cotton fabrics) and by occasionally unexpected production techniques (such as sewing). In this regard, they differ distinctly from the contemporaneous coolness of the industrially produced objects of American minimal art. The way in which Walther presents his works suggests that he does not aim for full disclosure, but instead deliberately conceals some things, leaving open the possibility of revelation. This is particularly evident in his key early work 1. Werksatz (1963‒1969). The 58 Werkstücke pieces that make up 1. Werksatz have no autonomous aesthetic qualities. They are aimed at potential and actual usability. Up until the mid-1970s, Walther’s artistic work included the “Aktivierung (activation)” of the individual Werkstücke pieces. These Handlungsformen (forms of action) represented the transition from potential to actual use and vice versa.
Of the 3,000 or so Werkzeichnungen that were produced at the same time as his 1. Werksatz, a selection of 16 are held by the Baloise art collection. In these colorful works on paper, Walther distilled his insights and experiences of the Aktivierung (activation) of his 58 Werkstücke into a remarkably sensual visual language, containing elements of self-reflective discourse that are an integral part of Walther’s praxis.
An artistic approach such as this harbors a wealth of possibilities that allow Walther to approach a new, or as he puts it anderer Werkbegriff (other concept of the artwork. The Werkstücke pieces in 1. Werksatz and the Werkzeichnungen drawings have shifted away from the supposedly old-fashioned, traditional genres (painting, sculpture etc.). Walther’s works explore the potential of a new concept of art in which the artwork itself is no longer fulfilled by the eye of the beholder, but which requires the beholder to engage several senses. The fact that such potential is far from exhausted is evident in the timeless relevance of Walther’s oeuvre, which also appeals to a young generation of artists in search of answers to the question of what actually constitutes an artwork.