After two years of the pandemic, “Walk!” at Schirn Kunsthalle in Frankfurt feels timely. The many lockdowns got all of us walking, but do artists walk differently? “Walk!” shows works by more than 40 international artists whose practice involves walking as an integral part. While clearly intended as a broad overview of the uses of walking in art, its curatorial choices surprise with unexpected emphases and omissions.
A megaphone, an iPhone, a gun, a blood-filled bowl, a toy dog on wheels, a black pair of Dr. Martens, a metal bucket, custom-made armor, stripper garb and a reflective mask: it is striking, to what degree “Walk!” relies on video works that show artists walking through a city while carrying, pulling or kicking an object, or wearing accessories or costumes. The dominance of this simple recipe for walking art creates a somewhat limiting view. The featured artists´ walks sometimes solicit strong reactions from the passers-by they encounter during their walks, but mostly the general public’s response seems fairly predictable (disbelief, insult, sabotage) and there is little of the open-endedness, a walking practice can offer.
In its focus on individual works, the show seems oddly uninterested in less literal wanderings, especially those of movements that center around walking practices, such as the Situationists, the Surrealists or Psychogeography. “Walk!”—the show´s title being an imperative—instead somewhat narrowly insists on the physical act of walking being depicted.
The show’s presentation as a meandering stroll through the long and narrow gallery space of the Schirn appears consistent with its content. The relative homogeneity of the works, however, does not quite exploit the spatial opportunities of the exhibition layout for a more perceivable arc of suspense. Beginning and end of the show feel very sudden, and retracing one’s steps through the gallery on the way out offers a seemingly unintended recap without many highlights along the path.
In fairness, as we learned during the last two years, this might also be what walking is like sometimes.
gv. & jm.
Schirn Kunsthalle, Frankfurt am Main