GUENTHER UECKER (b. 1930)
Günther Uecker is a German artist, born 1930 in Wendorf, Germany. Uecker is known for his association with the internationally influential Zero Group, which he joined in 1961. Fellow German artists, Otto Piene and Hienz Mack, founded the group, with Uecker joining shortly thereafter. Others who would associate themselves with the group include Yves Klein, Jean Tinguely, Lucio Fontana, Piero Manzoni, Yayoi Kusama, and the Gutai Group. An international art movement, Zero was named as both the point of origin and the countdown to it as the artists believed in creating not just a new art but a new world emerging from the wreckages of WWII.
Uecker studied philosophies in search of simplicity and purity including Buddhism, Taoism, and Islam. In his studies he found the ritual practice of repetition that he began to incorporate into his art. This included hammering nails into canvases and eventually furniture. The raised heads of the nails turn the paintings into sculptural reliefs and both mark the ritualized reiterative action of hammering as well as allude to the Power Figures of the Kongo peoples. These nail paintings are an act of purification standing in contrast to and emerging from the acts of violence needed to create them. Uecker has referenced Soviet poet, Vladimir Mayakovsky, in describing his process – “Poetry is made with a hammer.”
After the dissolution of Zero Group, Uecker had an influential meeting with John Cage that pushed him into more conceptual art. Since then, he has expanded his oeuvre to include installations, film, performance, and set design. Whether with a hammer and nail or with any other material, through ritual and repetition, Uecker’s work finds renewal from wounds and he has compared his art as something growing from scarred lands. As he has said, “The inspiration for my work comes from nature – my father was a farmer and I still believe our purpose in life is to bring the fruit from the earth.”
His work can be found in public collections including Centre Georges Pompidou (Paris), Hamberguer Banhof (Berlin), Sammlung Hoffman (Berlin), Staatsgalerie (Stuttgart), Peggy Guggenheim Collection (Venice), Stedelijk Museum (Amsterdam), Moderna Museet (Stockholm), Albright-Knox Gallery (Buffalo), Los Angeles County Museum of Contemporary Art (Los Angeles), Walker Art Center (Minneapolis), The Museum of Modern Art (New York), Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum (New York), and Tate Modern (London)