Lot 107
  • 107

Günther Uecker

200,000 - 300,000 GBP
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  • Günther Uecker
  • Untitled
  • signed and dated 1971 on the reverse; signed, dated 1971 and dedicated für Monika Schmela on the overlap
  • nails and acrylic on canvas laid down on wood
  • 40.5 by 40 cm. 15 7/8 by 15 3/4 in.


Monika Schmela, Germany (a gift from the artist)
Galerie Alfred Schmela, Dusseldorf
Private Collection, Germany
Acquired from the above by the present owner


Colour: The colours in the catalogue illustration are fairly accurate, although the overall tonality tends more towards a soft cream. The catalogue illustration also fails to fully convey the depth and optical effect of the protruding nails. Condition: Please refer to the Contemporary Art department for the condition report.
"In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.

Catalogue Note

In 1957, the nail became the central element in the visual inventory of German ZERO artist Günther Uecker, and one that transformed monochrome painted surfaces into palpable fields of energy. The present work is a supreme example of such a work in which Uecker utilised the ordinary object of a nail as an image-creating force. In this piece, an army of nails punctures the wood surface, casting shadows, shaping light and, as Uecker clarifies, “through light quanta, like those usually found in colour or elsewhere in the form of painting… emerges a real space” (Günther Uecker in conversation with Hans Ulrich Obrist, in: Exh. Cat., New York, L&M Arts, Günther Uecker: The Early Years, 2011, p. 7). While Uecker utilises the nail to create new spatial realities, the nail also has personal significance to the artist as it related to the events of the Second World War, and in particular to the barricaded houses that were common – and necessary – in Germany. In the artist’s own words, “as the front door closed in, I barricaded my house from within, which was only an illusion of safety of course. But nevertheless, it definitely gave an emotional feeling of protection. And this is what the nails represent in my work: on the one hand a defence… but on the other hand tenderness” (Ibid., p. 8). While the nails are symbolic of the artist’s fear and the destruction of his own house growing up during the war, they are emblematic of the wider catastrophic destruction and subsequent rebuilding of Germany in the post-war years.

The white acrylic surface pierced by the nails in the present work is characteristic of the artist’s adherence to minimal colouration, a preference made clear in Uecker’s statement that, “I chose a white zone as an expression of extreme colouration, as the epitome of light, as a triumph over darkness. A white world, I believe, is a humane world in which people experience a colourful existence, in which they can be truly alive… the state of whiteness may be understood as a prayer, and its articulation can be a spiritual experience” (Günther Uecker cited in: Alexander Tolnay, Ed., Günther Uecker Twenty Chapters, Ostfildern-Ruit 2006, p. 44). The reduced colour palette of Untitled augments Uecker’s use of nails, and the expressive application of white acrylic paint distinctly conveys the movement of light and shadow upon the wood’s surface.

The present work reflects on the fundamental interests of the ZERO group, to which Günther Uecker solidified his ties in 1961. Uecker, along with the founders of the group Heinz Mack and Otto Piene, represented a generation of artists that emerged in the years after the war in search of a new visual language, a tabula rasa with which they could explore new forms of perception through the use of light and motion. Uecker’s work has been included in an impressive range of major international exhibitions detailing the ZERO group at the Guggenheim Museum in New York, and the Kunstsammlung Nordrhein Westfalen in Dusseldorf, among others.

To Uecker, light and pure colour was inherent to the spiritual liberation of the individual, and equally critical to the meditative powers of art. His application of nails onto the surface of his work served as a meditative ritual in itself, and one that shaped the artist’s unique vision of sculptural painting and raw abstraction in the post-war decades and well after: “I am not painting pictures of the world but instead putting pictures out into the world” (op. cit., p. 9).