Baum Collection, Wuppertal
Galerie Jöllenbeck, Cologne
Acquired from the above by the present owner circa 1978
In the wake of World War II, many European artists began looking for an artistic expression that would satisfy their need for a new beginning, a base ‘zero’, free from the gestural brushwork and pictorial sentimentality of the Tachisme and Art Informel movements that had proliferated during the 1940s and ‘50s. This was nowhere achieved more pertinently as in the ZERO Group. As succinctly summarised by Otto Piene: “Zero is the incommensurable zone in which the old state turns into the new” (Otto Piene, ‘Die Entstehung der Gruppe ‘Zero,’’ The Times Literary Supplement, 3 September 1964). Originally founded in 1957 by Heinz Mack and Otto Piene, Uecker joined the group in 1961. Whilst Uecker, Mack and Piene formed the core of the group, other artists – such as Yves Klein, Jean Tinguely, Pol Bury and Daniel Spoerri – became associated with the movement through exhibitions and a likeminded approach to art making. Seeking to discover an entirely new creative language unencumbered by extraneous concerns and traditional ideas of representation, ZERO artists employed light and motion as a means to radicalise artistic expression. Pure colour and light was seen as the essence of cosmic power and became synonymous with the spiritual liberation of the individual. As outlined by Uecker: “My objects are spatial realities, zones of light. I use mechanical means in order to overcome the subjective gesture, to objectify it, and to create the situation of freedom” (Günther Uecker cited in: ibid, p. 54).
The group’s name aptly referenced the countdown for a rocket launch and advocated a radical new beginning for modern art. The first major exhibition of ZERO works in the United States, ZERO: Countdown to Tomorrow, at the Guggenheim New York from October 2014 to January 2015, catapulted the ZERO artists to wider international fame. That same year Günther Uecker’s works were recognised with a major exhibition at the Kunstsammlung Nordrhein Westfalen, Dusseldorf, in which his breath-taking nail reliefs presented a visual biography of the artist’s idiosyncratic oeuvre.
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