Günther Uecker - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale London Wednesday, October 3, 2018 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Private Collection, Zurich
    Galerie Knoell, Basel
    Cardi Gallery, London
    Acquired from the above by the present owner

  • Catalogue Essay

    With its thick daubs of white paint and raw canvas impaled with a flurry of nails, the present work is exemplary of Günther Uecker’s seminal use of medium. Executed in 1981, Untitled was executed during the height of cold war tensions and provides a microcosm where artistic energy has energetically unfurled; Uecker has applied his choice of medium in a satisfying and cathartic disarray. Puncturing, bending, swiping and twisting, Uecker manipulates his medium to toy with the two-dimensionality of the canvas, subverting traditional notions of painting and expanding the dimensional confines of the plane. The present work, constructed from raw materials, embodies the artist’s preoccupation with creating a new and progressive visual language and is a crucial example of Uecker’s innovative artistic contribution on the European post-war milieu.

    Imbuing the composition with organic rhythm, Uecker’s burst of nails cast subtle shadows against the white gestural whirls of paint, catching glints of light which hit the picture plane and cause the work to vibrate with vital energy as new perspectives are created. Albeit static, Uecker’s positioning of nails and thick strokes of white force the viewer’s eye to rove over the surface of the work, creating fluctuations and a profound sense of movement. Uecker transforms the nail, a rigid and threatening object, momentarily subsuming it into the visual motion of the picture plane. Utilising the violent shape, Uecker configures the nail into a sensuously integrated form, taking charge of its destructive qualities, and channelling them for his own artistic aim. In the same way that Lucio Fontana utilised a knife to slash the canvas and create new realms of dimensionality, so here Uecker transforms his ambiguous painting. Exploring light, technology and materials, as well as the artistic interrogation of dimensionality, in the present work, the key concerns of the ZERO movement are here presented to the viewer.

    Creating work in a politically charged post-war Germany, which had been physically divided and brought to rubble in the wake of World War Two, Uecker’s critical choice of medium is weighted with cultural and historical significance; the systematic violence of the Second World War is evoked. In the artist’s earlier actions and performances from the sixties, a destructive deed, often public, would manifest in the artist nailing, shooting, blocking and digging, for example, evident in his 1968 work, Action: “Art Piece at Kaufhof”. 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. Conversely, Uecker’s interest in the ritualistic elements of religion, in particular the theology of Buddhism, Taoism, and Islam, is also clear in the present work, whereby the repeated hammering of nails and calligraphic gestures encapsulate Uecker’s exploration of customs and ceremonial actions. Sculptural in its construction, the present work is designed to manipulate our sense of depth and motion. 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.



signed and dated 'Uecker '81' lower right
nails, adhesive and emulsion paint on canvas laid on panel
72.3 x 63.4 cm (28 1/2 x 24 7/8 in.)
Executed in 1981, this work is registered in the Uecker Archiv under the number GU.81.123 for the consideration of works to be included into the forthcoming Uecker Catalogue Raisonné.

£150,000 - 250,000 ‡ ♠

Contact Specialist
Tamila Kerimova
Specialist, Head of Day Sale
+ 44 20 7318 4065

20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale

London Auction 4 October 2018