A Place for the Name: Franz Erhard Walther’s Toledo

Yesterday, after a picnic in Parque El Retiro, we visited the Franz Erhard Walther exhibition Un lugar para el cuerpo (“A Place for the Body”) at the Palacio de Velázquez and the Rosa Barba installation Solar Flux Recordings at the Palacio de Cristal. Both of these sites in the park are extensions of the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia and we’ll be visiting the main building today for the Lee Lozano exhibition (which I will post about tomorrow).

Returning to these spaces yesterday brought back memories of exhibitions I encountered there over the past few years. In the Palacio de Velázquez I have seen Rémy Zaugg, Carl Andre, Luciano Fabro and Kerry James Marshall, while in the Palacio de Cristal installations by Damián Ortega, Federico Guzmán, Janet Cardiff & George Bures Miller, Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster. It would be a mistake to generalize too much about such a small selection of exhibitions, but the differences between the two ‘Palaces’ in the park seemed to lend themselves to different types of work.

The work I have seen in the Palacio de Velázquez has been of an imposing scale, comprising either sculptural works or paintings. As for the unique environment of the Palacio de Cristal, the installations have been more ephemeral and cereberal.

In spite of these broad differences in the two spaces and the work shown there, the Franz Erhard Walther exhibition, with its focus on the body should have continued the trend. However, I was struck by how one part of the space was devoted to Walther’s work with language. Accompanying wall and floor pieces of large fabric letters, one wall contained two works from 1976 that played with the structure of two different words – one German and one Greek (Vorbereitung (“Preparation”) and Organon (“Instrument, Tool”).

The Greek word-work reminded me of Plato’s Cratylus and its central idea of language as an ‘instrument (organon) of teaching and classifying reality’ (388b-c). According to Plato names cannot be entirely conventional, but must be well-defined in relation to nature and reality. At the same time, substantiating the correctness of names etymologically can lead to absurdities. I was still musing on Walther’s Organon and Plato’s Cratylus when I encountered a series of drawings that Walther made in Toledo in 1959.

Scene in Toledo at Night

Rhythms in Toledo

Toledo Fragment

On Walls in Toledo

Motive on the Ramble (Toledo)

In Front of the Entrance of Town (Toledo)

In the Surroundings of Toledo

Pedro on the Banks of the River Tajo

Remembrance of Toledo

Form Motive in Toledo

Taken as a group they seemed to have some inherent coherence which was proved by the wall text that not only showed their shared moment of composition (1959), but also that of place (Toledo). As each drawing focused on a different aspect or area of the Spanish city, the name ‘Toledo’ was repeated in each title. These unassuming works, especially compared to the imposing, bodily structures elsewhere in the exhibition, made me think of how artworks, like names, can also act as instruments of teaching and classifying reality. I am sure I will return to Madrid after this year and will encounter more exhibitions in the two Palaces in the park, but since this year has been one of Minus Plato Today, perhaps I am more sensitive to works like Walther’s Toledo series that show something of the correctness of timing and place in conjunction (location, location, location). Maybe this is because of the name Toledo connecting here I am now (Toledo, Spain) and where I’ve traveled from (Toledo, Ohio). Or the nonsense of the Trumpism “covfefe”. Either way, this correctness is captured in another work by Walther, in which I caught myself reflected as a took a photograph or the moment at which my son, Eneko, bursts into a photograph of the Toldeo series:

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