Although established in Dusseldorf, the influence of Zero quickly spread throughout Europe, existing across borders and expanding to include seminal members such as Yves Klein, Enrico Castellani and Jan Schoonhoven, among others. The group looked to the older artist Lucio Fontana as a mentor and trailblazer of their principles. Fontana’s violent and dramatically slashed canvas not only challenged traditional concepts of painting, but also offered a new way of conceiving of space, a crucial principle to the new movement. Following in these footsteps, Zero artists turned to unprecedented materials and innovative compositional structures in order to overturn the conventional restrictions of painting and sculpture and create groundbreaking new forms.
Uecker formally entered the Zero movement in 1961 after meeting Heinz Mack, Otto Piene and Yves Klein several years earlier. His innovative use of nails embodied the Zero principles of dynamism, movement and vibration. Projecting outward into space while simultaneously piercing into the picture plane, Uecker’s Spirale I perfectly incorporates the themes of movement and energy which were so crucial to Zero. Crouching above his panels, Uecker hammered his nails rapidly into canvas in unplanned designs. These works were created at “lighting speed in a single, uninterrupted action, the result of which he did not see as a whole until the action was completed or brought to an end by sheer exhaustion” (Dieter Honisch in Exh. Cat., Berlin, Neuer Berliner Kunstverein, Gunther Uecker: Twenty Chapters, 2006, p. 60). Like Fontana’s slashing, Uecker uses the action of hammering to challenge the concept of the two dimensional picture plane and revolutionize a whole new art form: a type of wall mounted sculpture.
Radiating outward in concentric rings, the nails in Spirale I seem to swirl and flow. The play of the bright white nails against dark elongated shadows constantly challenges the eye, suggesting movement while producing ever evolving patterns, and thus producing distinct responses in each viewer. Spirale I perfectly embodies the key Zero principles of movement and light. As Uecker explained “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). Lyrical and graceful yet produced with great force, Spirale I stands as a characteristic example within Uecker's distinctive oeuvre, representing a departure from the established conventions of pictorial space.
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