Doing Things with Objects

Encounter centred on Franz Erhard Walther

September 9, 2017 - 12 p.m.
Parque del Retiro, Palacio de Velázquez
In collaboration with

The Franz Erhard Walther Foundation

Franz Erhard Walther en documenta 5 (1972)
Franz Erhard Walther en documenta 5 (1972)

As a culmination of the exhibition Franz Erhard Walther. A Place for the Body, the Museo Reina Sofía will hold an encounter with the artist Franz Erhard Walther (Fulda, 1939), featuring the participation of Elena Filipovic, Christian Rattemeyer and João Fernandes. The conversation also serves as an accompaniment to a series of activations performed by Walther.

The title of this lecture alludes to How to Do Things with Words, the influential book by the language philosopher J. L. Austin, published in 1962. In this study, Austin defines a type of sentence he calls “performative”, whereby “saying” something implies “doing” something. In other words, an utterance is an action. This performative aspect is explained through language’s capacity to travel beyond description or observation to produce a determined reality, with such a reflection having a major influence on numerous contemporary artists, among them the unique Franz Erhard Walther.

 Walther’s artistic practice departs from the static and solid idea of sculpture as he develops a series of objects made primarily from organic and textile materials and activated by the viewer’s own action. Activation is a process which inter-relates the body, artistic object, time and space to produce a work which is inseparable from the notion of participation. A sculpture, conventionally understood as a free-standing object, is redefined as a public, collective and temporary event. As in J. L. Austin’s text on language and action, for Walther the meaning of a sculpture cannot be separated from its use.

 Although the artist’s work bears a relation to different artistic events in the 1960s and 1970s, it always stands equidistant from them. For instance, the investigation into the artistic object and viewers’ experience which brings him closer to minimalism; his interest in the connection between language, action and conceptual art; the use of organic materials and the importance placed on the process, and on Povera Art. This encounter, therefore, is articulated around these points of contact and distinguishes between different axes and lines of work. With that in mind, Elena Filipovic will address the relationship between the artist, the body and dance; Christian Rattemeyer will consider the relationship between abstraction and painting; and João Fernandes will approach the figure of Walther, setting out from his research into language.


Franz Erhard Walther. German artist. He participated in documenta 5, 6, 7 and 8 (1972, 1977, 1982 and 1987), and his work has been exhibited in numerous solo shows in institutions such as MoMA, New York (1970), Museum Ludwig, Cologne (1977), Kunstverein St. Gallen (1980), Berlin’s Nationalgalerie (1981), Stedelijk Van Abbenmuseum,  Eindhoven (1984 and 1993), Hamburg’s Kunsthalle (1991 and 2013), Mamco, Geneva (1994 and 1997), Fundación Gulbenkian, Lisbon (2003), Mies van der Rohe Haus, Berlin (2009), WIELS in Brussels (2014), and The Power Plant, in Toronto (2016). In 1994 he was awarded the Piepenbrock Prize for Sculpture, and the Golden Lion in 2017 at the Venice Biennale.  

Elena Filipovic. Director of Kunsthalle Basel. Between 2009 and 2014 she served as a curator at WIELS in Brussels, where she organised the exhibition Franz Erhard Walther: The Body Decides. She also co-curated the 5th Berlin Biennial with Adam Szymczyk, and has organised a range of exhibitions with emerging artists, for instance Marcel Duchamp, Alina Szapocznikow, Mark Leckey and Teresa De Keersmaeker, and different touring retrospectives. She is the author of The Apparently Marginal Activities of Marcel Duchamp (2016) and David Hammons, Bliz-aard Ball Sale (2017), and recently edited the publications Felix Gonzalez-Torres: Specific Objects Without Specific Form (2016) and The Artist as Curator: An Anthology (2017).  

Christian Rattemeyer. An associate curator in the Department of Drawings at New York’s MoMA, he has organised exhibitions such as Lines, Grids, Stains, Words (Museo Serralves and Museo Wiesbaden, 2007) and Alighiero Boetti (Museo Reina Sofía and Tate Modern, 2012). He has also published widely on contemporary art and has edited the catalogues Exhibiting the New Art (2010) and Compass in Hand: Assessing Drawing Now (2009).

João Fernandes. Deputy director of the Museo Reina Sofía and curator of the exhibition Franz Erhard Walther. A Place for the Body.