Lot 3
  • 3

Günther Uecker

500,000 - 700,000 GBP
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  • Günther Uecker
  • Rose
  • signed, titled and dated 64 on the reverse
  • kaolin and nails on canvas on board
  • 99 by 66 by 7.5 cm. 39 by 26 by 3 in.


Howard Wise Gallery, New York

Private Collection, Chicago (acquired from the above in 1966)

Thence by descent to the present owner in 2001


New York, Howard Wise Gallery, Mack, Piene, Uecker: Zero, November – December 1964, n.p., no. 7, (text)


Dieter Honisch, Uecker, Stuttgart 1983, p. 196, no. 373, (text)

Georges Elgozy, ‘De la peinture en mouvement’, Art International, Vol. IX/8, 20 November 1965, n.p., (text)


Colour: The colour in the catalogue illustration is fairly accurate. Condition: This work is in very good condition. Close inspection reveals some small paint losses in places to a few of the nails, most notably toward to lower half of the work. There is some wear to the center of the left and right overturn edges and to the center of the overturn top edge. No restoration is apparent when examined under ultra violet light.
"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

A leading figure in the theoretical and liberal pursuit of an artistic tabula rasa, Günther Uecker was one of the key members of the ZERO group. He joined the group, founded in 1957 by Heinz Mack and Otto Piene, in 1961. 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. Contemporaneous to the birth of ZERO in Germany there were a number of avant-garde movements across the globe with similar aesthetic and conceptual ambitions, including Italy's Azimuth (Piero Manzoni and Enrico Castellani), Holland's Nul (Armando, Jan Henderikse, Jan Schoonhoven, Herman de Vries), France's Nouveaux Réalistes (Arman, Yves Klein, Daniel Spoerri), and Japan's Gutai group (Jirô Yoshihara, Shozo, Shimamoto, Kazuo, Shiraga, Atsuko Tanaka, among others); as well as the Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama. Rose, which is a reference to the poetry of Gertrude Stein and in particular the famous quote from her 1913 poem Sacred Emily, was executed at the height of Uecker’s immersion in the ZERO group (between 1961 and 1966) and is wholly paradigmatic of the movement’s key tenets of calming purity.  

In the wake of World War II, many artists were striving 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 proliferated during the 1950s. This was nowhere achieved as 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, n.p.). Herein, the group’s name aptly referenced the countdown for a rocket launch and advocated a radical new beginning for modern art. The artist who is considered the trailblazer of this new form of artistic expression and who worked closely with the ZERO group’s ‘inner core’ was Lucio Fontana. Fontana’s drastic slashing of the canvas offered a philosophical glimpse into the infinite void beyond and radically changed the discourse of painting. A generation older, Fontana is heralded as a forefather and mentor to Italy’s Azimuth, as well as Germany’s ZERO artists. Interestingly, he was indeed an early collector of Heinz Mack’s work, having (unbeknownst to Mack) bought a work by the artist from his first Paris show.

A white washed relief suffused by a vivid interplay of light and dark, Rose reflects the primary concerns of the ZERO movement. 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: Alexander Tolnay, Ed., Günther Uecker Twenty Chapters, Ostfildern-Ruit 2006, p. 54). Rose endures as a model of subtle elegance and dynamism. A duality of rhythmic structure and loose chaos creates a dynamic effect that is as vigorous as it is enthralling. With an almost ritualistic repetition Uecker hammered in nails at slanting angles and various depths. The jutting landscape of nails is transformed by a dramatic chiaroscuro effect, which varies depending on view point and position of light and delivers an entirely unique visual experience. As described by Uecker, the nail is “the ideal object with which to model light and shadow – to make time visible… It protrudes as a tactile feeler from the flat surface, much like a sundial” (Günther Uecker cited in: Ibid, p. 72).

A lyrical coalition of the primary principles of Uecker’s idiosyncratic oeuvre, Rose affords a revolutionary departure from the conventional concepts of pictorial space. It is a poetic embodiment of the meditative powers of art, whose spiritual enterprise finds a subtly differing ontological response in every viewer.