Brain Pickings

Tidying Up Art: Ursus Wehrli Deconstructs Iconic Paintings

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How a neat freak with a penchant for humor retells the art history of the world.

Ursus Wehrli TED TalkWhen an art critic talks about deconstructing a painting, they’re normally talking figuratively — pick the concept apart, dissect the symbolism, analyze the message. Not the case with comedian-slash-experimental-artist Ursus Wehrli, who’s on a quest to deconstruct and tidy up art — literally.

The quirky Swiss takes famous artwork, deconstructs the elements it’s composed of — brush strokes, shapes, lines — and stacks them up neatly, altering nothing but the original’s spatial arrangement of those elements.

Ursus Wehrli: Keith Haring Deconstructed

The product, of course, is nothing like the original — and completely original at the same time.

The idea came to him after observing a hotel’s meticulous room service, which would transform his stuff-scattered room into a tidiness mecca every day, sometimes multiple times a day. Like any artist, this pushed him towards an unusual association as he asked himself how Van Gogh’s famous “Bedroom” would look if the room service crew could get their hands on it.

That first moment of inspiration drove him to explore the unusual approach further. His book, Tidying Up Art, does just that with dozens of masterpieces, humorously and innovatively deconstructed.

Watch his TED talk as he elaborates, rather entertainingly and with a true gift for comedy, on the project.

Our favorite: The Jackson Pollock one, which was such a mess to clean up that Wehrli went all the way to the bare bones, simply putting the paint back in the can.

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