Lot 104
  • 104

Günther Uecker

600,000 - 800,000 USD
1,145,000 USD
bidding is closed


  • Günther Uecker
  • Spirale
  • signed, titled and dated 65 on the reverse
  • acrylic and nails on panel
  • 39 1/2 by 39 1/2 by 2 1/2 in. 100.3 by 100.3 by 6.4 cm.


Gordon Locksley Gallery, Minneapolis
Donald and Jean Knudsen, Minneapolis and Palm Springs
Acquired by the present owner from the above

Catalogue Note

German ZERO artist Günther Uecker started creating his nail paintings in 1957. The artist is best known for his undulating reliefs using hammered nails, his signature medium. He also occupied himself with the medium of light, studied optical phenomena, series of structures and the realms of oscillation which actively integrate the viewer and enable him to influence the visual process by kinetic or manual interference. Uecker increasingly used nails as an artistic means of expression - a material which, until today, stands in the center of his oeuvre.

Executed in 1965, Spirale is an early and deeply hypnotic work by Uecker, dating from the artist's early, experimental period, coinciding with the founding of the ZERO Group. Uecker became signatory to the ZERO movement in 1961 where he was introduced to the visual practices of fellow artists Heinz Mack and Otto Piene. Together, their monochromatic works were each aimed at creating dynamic optical vibrations. With his signature motif, the artist here has created a remarkably tactile canvas via undulating protrusions of vertiginous nails.

The present work combines two stylistic elements that are characteristic of Uecker’s oeuvre: the spiral and nails. The radial of nails develops its effect through constant dynamic and neatly arranged motion. The artist describes this fascinating phenomenon as follows: "The way I employ nails as structural elements I don’t want them to be regarded as nails. By these well-organized means I want to achieve a vibration that disturbs its geometrical order and that vexes the observer." (Exh. Cat., Kestner-Gesellschaft Hanover, Mack Piene Uecker, 1964, p. 166) This vibration and motion is achieved by the nails' varying inclination angle, providing an enormous tension and differentiated play of light, that evokes simultaneously contemplative and dynamic visual impressions. Spirale offers an irregular arrangement and variable density of nails across the composition. 

It is a lyrical work that is at once static, the artist encouraging the viewer to walk around and experience the piece. Each of the nails is fixed into the board with physical force and exertion, yet together they appear dynamic with their ambulatory pattern creating an effect that forever refuses to abate. The work is configured in a circular pattern, the nails radiating outwards from a central epicenter. Each hammered nail is painted an even monochromatic white. From every angle the viewer discovers a new mix of patterns, motions and shadows. It is this optical effect that invites the viewer's eye to roam across the surface of the work, seeking new relationships between volume and shadow. This classic Uecker work truly shows this celebrated German artist at his height - as a master of optical manipulation, light and shadow, and frozen movement.

For the artist, the nail-covered surface is a sort of antithesis of the painted surface, as is his dominant preference for the color white. Following his subscription to the ZERO Group in 1961, the artist was exposed to the optical experimentation of fellow artists Heinz Mack and Otto Piene, whose monochromatic works aimed at dynamic optical vibrations. Additionally, exposure to Yves Klein's monochromes in 1957 inspired Uecker to blanket his paintings in an even, white paint, transforming the works into luminous light structures. Thus the surfaces of Uecker's paintings are intrinsically dynamic and ever-changing, paradoxical in that their static forms render ceaseless and fluid movement. The monochromatic as well as monolithic absence of color opened up a wealth of mystical possibilities. The nails arranged in all sorts of intervals, rhythms, organic patrons and sequences and their shadows, give the artist the opportunity to explore all sorts of light arrangements. The viewer is, depending on his position and time of day, confronted with a different and unique work every time.

With his stunningly seductive animated field, Uecker transforms his works from simply pictures into objects, an important and innovative example of wall-based sculpture. The dynamic visual effect refuses to resolve, settle, or still. "When I use nails my aim is to establish a structured pattern of relationships in order to set vibrations in motion that disturb and irritate their geometric order. What is important to me is variability, which is capable of revealing the beauty of movement to us." (Gunther Uecker, quoted in Alexander Tolnay and Wulf Herzogenrath, eds., Gunther Uecker: Twenty Chapters, Berlin, 2006, p. 34.)