Ethan Zuckerman’s online home, since 2003

Ursus Wehrli tidies up art

Ursus Wehrli is a Swiss comedian and the author of “Tidying Up Art”, an attempt to bring (Swiss?) rationality to modern art.

He begins with a quilt-like work by Paul Klee. “It’s a confusion of color. The artists doesn’t really seem to know where to put the color… Mr. Klee was probably in a hurry.” He turns it into a bar graph, organized in order of hue. “That’s just tidying up for beginners.”

Looking at a painting by Joan Miro, he notes, “The artists has drawn a few lines and shapes and dropped them any old place… It’s the sort of thing you produce when doodling on the phone…” Cleaning it up into a stack of swirls, dots and lines, he explains, “With this method, Mr. Miro could have saved canvas for another picture.”

He’s patented his working method – we hear the beginning of the patent application… in German… which he explains doesn’t make much more sense in English.

Working with a Keith Haring, he can’t figure out which way to place it. “This picture doesn’t even have a proper title. It’s called ‘Untitled’, and that’s appropriate”. Breaking it up into different elements and stacking them, we get “Keith Haring’s spare parts”. This sort of analysis allows Haring to determine how much paint he’ll need in the future.

We tidy Jasper Johns and Magritte, organizing colored lines and men in black suits into orderly lines by height.

Taking Van Gogh’s “Bedroom at Arles”, he tidies it by putting all the furniture on or under the bed, since it hadn’t been tidied since 1888. “Now, at least, we can do some vacuuming.”

With a Jackson Pollack, what else is there to do, but put the paint back into the cans?

One Response to “Ursus Wehrli tidies up art”

  1. David Cox says:

    Dear Ethan,

    My Web site shown above demonstrates a way of tidying up text-form so the logic of complex systems becomes visible but without the use of symbols (from symbolic logic) or words or spaghetti connecting lines — all of which are barriers to teamwork and understanding. The method depends on chunking information differently so it can be nore easily grasped. The success of this was demonstrated over many years at Procter & Gamble, from where I am now retired.

    I would like to get permission from Ursus and his publisher to add a description of Ursus’ book Tidying UP Art, and, specifically, to includ his two visuals on the Van Gogh which appears on the cover and another, probably the Matisse “Blue Nude IV.”

    Can you tell me how to reach Ursus and the publisher to get this permission? The Web site is a public service; nothing is being sold. Its Philosophy section summarizes my intent.

    Thank you very much.

    David J. Cox Cincinnati OH 20 March 2006

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