ZERO IS THE BEGINNING.
ZERO IS ROUND.
ZERO IS ZERO.
From the ZERO manifesto of 1963, Exhibition Catalogue, Düsseldorf, Museum Kunst Palast, 1957-1966 ZERO, 2008, back cover).
Contrasting a rich and vibrant optical spectacle with the tranquil appearance of the monochrome canvas, Sonnenüberflutung (Transgression) is an exceptionally accomplished work that attests to Günther Uecker’s most innovative artistic contributions. Through his signature use of nails on canvas, a concomitantly radical and astonishingly simple intervention in the picture plane, the present work embodies a wide spectrum of postwar artistic idioms, and is an engaging and original expression of the artist’s formal and intellectual preoccupations.
Executed in 1963, Sonnenüberflutung (Transgression) stands as a testament to Uecker’s exploration of materials and his on-going fascination with a profoundly new apprehension of spatial concepts. After the liberating and expressive spirit of art informel, Günther Uecker, Otto Piene and Heinz Mack, who made up the core membership of the ZERO group, advanced a novel artistic programme that emphasised the lucidity, purity and tranquillity of their art. As Otto Piene explained, “from the beginning we looked upon the term [zero] not as an expression of nihilism or as a dada-like gag, but as a word indicating a zone of silence and of pure possibilities for a new beginning” (Otto Piene quoted in op. cit., n.p.).
The present work, as one of Günther Uecker’s momentous paintings from the early 1960s, epitomises all of ZERO’s principles and echoes the concerns of the many international artists who were sympathetic to the group’s ideals. The ingenious and unorthodox application of nails introduces a three-dimensionality to the canvas that also interested artists like Lucio Fontana and Enrico Castellani, whilst their captivating optical effects are reminiscent of Victor Vasarely’s op art. Contrasting this physical break with the flat picture plane, the soft yellow monochrome in Sonnenüberflutung (Transgression) embodies the exploration of the metaphysical space that also captivated Yves Klein. The choice of yellow is particularly significant here, since besides its reference to the sun in the title of the work, the ZERO artists considered it to be neutral rather than associative, which echoed their interests in the spatial and temporal dimensions of colour. Since examples of such chromatic explorations are extremely rare, the work offers an utterly unique insight into Uecker’s practice.
In its apparent duality, the present work magnificently captures Uecker’s two main innovations: the physical exploration of the three-dimensionality of painting and the metaphysical suggestion of space in the monochrome canvas - presented not as a contradiction, but as a symbiosis of opposites. Consisting of half patterned nails and half monochrome canvas, the absence of the one also constitutes the presence of the other; thus always resolving the duality of its shape in a beautiful harmonic unity. With its highly distinctive appearance, Sonnenüberflutung (Transgression) is a particularly rare and potent work from Günther Uecker’s oeuvre, which presents his striking investigations into the boundaries of painting with visual clarity and beauty. Standing as a true testament to the radical artistic developments of the postwar period, but also embodying a universally valid language, the work is both art-historically significant and of timeless appeal.
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