Ursus Wehrli

It isn’t often that a TedTalk provokes actual belly laughter. Snickers yes, sometimes an appreciative titter. But outright guffaws? I can’t remember too many, and certainly not sustained through an entire presentation. Ursus Wehrli managed it, in a talk filmed in February 2006 but only recently uploaded.

The premise is simple. Much (modern) art is not very tidy. So Wehrli tidies it up.1 And he is very, very funny with it. As soon as I stopped spluttering long enough to tell The Squeeze she asked “What’ll he do with Jackson Pollock?”. I couldn’t think. But do him he does, although I won’t give the game away. He also does some older pieces, including a Breughel and Vincent’s bedroom at Arles: “At least now you can do some vacuuming.”

Book cover Tidying up Art

Why is this so funny? Because we all know about the Swiss and orderliness. Wehrli plays on his own Swissness beautifully. But also because we share in the joke; these are not obscure works. They are well known, and we “ought” to appreciate them, even if we don’t fully understand them. I wouldn’t be surprised if lots of people actually find the tidied up versions more attractive. I know I did, at least for some of them.

That may also be why Einstein’s untidy allotment is sprouting all over the blogosphere. Can the person with the famously untidy hair also have had a famously untidy plot? Yes, and this seems to be where it started.

  1. The photo shows a Miro and Wehrli’s version. I got it from Christopher Herot’s web site, with permission, and cropped it. Thanks Christopher.  

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