Franz Erhard Walther: Work as Action, Dia:Beacon, Beacon, NY

Installation view

October 2, 2010 – February 13, 2012

Dia Art Foundation presents Franz Erhard Walther: Work as Action, opening October 2, 2010, at Dia:Beacon, Riggio Galleries. This major exhibition will comprise more than two dozen works by Walther (German, b. 1937), who is internationally recognized for his five-decade-long investigation into the foundations of action, language, and space. Organized by Dia curator Yasmil Raymond, Franz Erhard Walther: Work as Action will remain on view through February 13, 2012. It is the artist’s first solo museum exhibition in the United States since 1990.

While the exhibition will include a diverse selection of works created between 1962 and 1973, it will focus on the artist’s Handlungsstücke (Action Pieces) and Werkstücke (Work Pieces) from the early 1960s. It was in these works that Walther first explored using straightforward physical actions—such as pressing, folding, unfolding, and covering surfaces with malleable materials—as a sculptural principle. The centerpiece of the exhibition will be the complete presentation of a Work Piece from Dia’s collection, titled 1. Werksatz (First Work Set). Dating from 1963–69, this comprises fifty-eight fabric elements, or “instruments for processes,” that are intended to be unfolded, used, and worn by visitors according to the artist’s instructions.

Walther’s provocative meditations on the concept of art as an act of “doing” that is temporal, subjective, and open to interpretation have resulted in an interdisciplinary practice that challenges conventional categories of painting and sculpture. He elaborated on these ideas in First Work Set, which will be shown in its totality for the first time in the United States since 1970, when it was included in the exhibition “Spaces,” at the Museum of Modern Art, New York. This major work, acquired by Dia in 1978, is a pioneering example of installation art, one that reconsiders the space of display as a “storage site” where objects are accessible to visitors and their forms determined by the ways in which they are used. With each of the work’s elements, Walther poses a spatial and temporal challenge for the beholder, whose physical actions and presence become integral parts of the conception and completion of the work. A selection of elements from First Work Set will be made available for interaction with visitors, from 11am to 1pm and 2pm to 4pm on days the museum is open, for the duration of the exhibition.

In the early 1960s, Walther trained at the Offenbach School of Applied Art and at the Düsseldorf Kunstakademie. Early influences included the work and manifestos of artists Lucio Fontana, Yves Klein, and Piero Manzoni, among others, who together triggered his conviction to, as he once said, “conceive work out of an action.” While at the Kunstakademie, he also became acquainted with Joseph Beuys and befriended fellow students Gerhard Richter and Blinky Palermo, the latter of whom he shared a studio with. Both Beuys and Richter have works on long-term view at Dia:Beacon, and Blinky Palermo: Retrospective 1964–1977 will be on view at Dia:Beacon from June through October 2011, concurrent with Walther’s exhibition.

Despite the importance of his work, his relationship with many American artists, and the influence of his extensive output on subsequent generations of artists, Walther’s practice remains largely unknown in the United States. Dia’s exhibition recognizes the historical significance of the artist’s First Work Set and his radical conception of the work of art as an experience of uninhibited action.