Reihung

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  • Provenance

    Eva Konerding (gifted by the artist in 1970)
    Galerie M, Bochum
    Private Collection, Europe
    Dorotheum, Vienna, 25 November 2010, lot 1004
    Acquired at the above sale by the present owner

  • Catalogue Essay

    Coursing with sublime energy and executed in the artist’s seminal choice of medium, Reihung is exemplary of Günther Uecker’s defining technique and on-going fascination with the dimensional confines of the plane. 528 nails of identical length punctuate the white surface in a linear grid formation, infusing the composition with an organic vibrating rhythm. Uecker participated in the 35th Venice Biennale in 1970. At the time of the Biennale, Uecker and Tünn Konerding, Uecker's studio assistant, executed a selection of embossed prints; the present work was intended to form the relief from which a print would be embossed, however the print never came to fruition and Reihung was then gifted to Tünn's wife, Eva. Subsequently, another embossed print was included in the 1970 Biennale exhibition catalogue. Tünn designed Uecker’s Uecker-Zeitung in the 1970s; the publication circulated images of the artist’s progressive practice, making it visually accessible en masse within a politically charged post-war Germany. The present work gracefully encapsulates the artist's distinct style and lies at the height of Uecker’s artistic development.

    In the same year in which Reihung was executed, Uecker’s exhibition at the German Pavilion in 1970, together with Thomas Lenk, Heinz Mack and Georg Karl Pfahler, cemented his immovable reputation within the art world. The artist nailed into wooden panels which were then mounted to the outside pillar of the German pavilion portico, thus dismantling the neoclassical architecture, with all its fascist implications, into a reconfigured object. Uecker’s contribution received critical acclaim and the celebrated exhibition subsequently travelled to Zachęta National Gallery of Art in Warsaw in 1971, becoming the first West German exhibition of contemporary art to be shown in Poland.

    In Reihung the repetitively bent nails cast subtle shadows and manipulate light as it hits the picture plane, causing the work to vibrate with animated fervour as new perspectives are created. Whilst static, Uecker’s positioning of nails atop the intricately marked grid forces the viewer’s eye to rove over the surface of the work, creating a fluctuating sense of movement. The nail, a rigid, hard and threatening object, is subsumed into the visual motion of the surface, transforming the violent, sharp shape into a sensuously integrated form. Just as Lucio Fontana utilised a knife to slash the canvas and create dimensionality in his progressive works, so Uecker turns the picture into an ambiguous object. In Reihung the artist expertly confronts the viewer with the critical concerns of the avant-garde ZERO movement: the exploration of light, technology and the interrogation of the picture plane beyond the traditional two-dimensional confines of the canvas.

    Uecker’s choice of medium is weighted with cultural and historical significance; the systematic violence of the Second World War is evoked as is the religious violence of the Crucifixion. Conversely, Uecker’s interest in the ritualistic elements of religion, in particular the theology of Buddhism, Taoism, and Islam, is evident in Reihung, whereby the formulaic hammering of nails quintessentially encapsulates Uecker’s exploration of customs and ceremonial actions. Reflecting on the act which came to be his signature style, the artist noted, ‘Coming from East Germany, where I had been educated about the Russian Revolution of 1917, I was thinking about Vladimir Mayakovsky’s declaration that “poetry is made with a hammer”’ (Günther Uecker quoted in, Matthew Wilcox, 'Examining the scars of history with Günther Uecker', Apollo, 11 February 2017, online). Through hammering and penetrating the plane, Uecker metaphorically bores into the core of the matter, obliterating and destroying the past, to create a new progressive perspective. In the artist’s earlier actions and performances from the sixties, this destructive deed, often public, would manifest in the artist nailing, shooting, blocking and digging. His 1968 work Action: “Art Piece at Kaufhof” presented a colossal metal nail driven through the exterior of a shopping centre in Dortmund, its sharp point directed at passing pedestrians below. The artist directly juxtaposed the threat and orchestrated tension with the quotidian routine of the bustling shoppers. Uecker commented on 'the store windows together with ordinary goods and with all the banality of their coexistence’ (Günther Uecker quoted in, ‘Das Museum als Kulturelle Kommune’, in Günther Uecker, Schriften, Sankt Gallen, 1979, p. 480), perhaps alluding to Hannah Arendt’s infamous 1963 theory on the ‘Banality of Evil’. Uecker’s nail works seek to examine the prevalence of destructiveness, cruelty and brutality in modern society.

    Intricately designed to manipulate our sense of depth and motion, Uecker’s use of simple and raw materials create an arena of meditative sublimity. Through its subtle variations, Reihung expertly embodies the artist’s preoccupation with creating a new and progressive visual language, exploring forms of perception through the use of light and motion. Sculptural in its construction, as a relief Reihung exceeds the limits of the two-dimensional plane and is a crucial example of Günther Uecker’s innovative artistic contribution and impact on the European post-war milieu. Following the devastating events of the Second World War and the feeling of loss in the aftermath of the Holocaust, Uecker’s work offers a complex contemplative space where form is reduced to a violent and ordered gesture. In the present composition, Uecker provides a stage of pensive stillness, a moment of quiet reflection, whilst directly confronting the horrors of the Third Reich. Reihung celebrates the very essence of Uecker’s ethos and his skilled mastery of mediums to evoke a period of new beginnings.

43

Reihung

signed and dedicated 'für Tünn und Eva von Uecker Günther' on the reverse
pencil, nails and lacquer on wood
78.5 x 78.5 x 2 cm (30 7/8 x 30 7/8 x 0 3/4 in.)
Executed in 1970, this work is accompanied by a photo certificate signed and dated by the artist.

Estimate
£250,000 - 350,000 

sold for £249,000

Contact Specialist
Henry Highley
Specialist, Head of Evening Sale
+ 44 20 7318 4061 hhighley@phillips.com

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 8 March 2018