Günther Uecker was born in 1930 in Wendorf, Germany. He studied painting at the Kunsthochschule Berlin Weissensee from 1949 to 1953, and further pursued his artistic training in 1955 at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf. Throughout the 1950s, Uecker cultivated a strong interest in repetitive practices and purification rituals, and became fascinated with the philosophies of Buddhism, Taoism, and Islam. He developed rituals of his own, including the lengthy, repetitive, meditative hammering of nails, and proceeded to translate this into his artistic practice. His nail-relief works exceed the limits of the two-dimensional plane and create a new realm for vision to explore the calculated patterns of light and shadow.
Uecker examined this effect further in the 1960s by introducing kinetic elements into his works through the use of engines, shifting his methodology from using precise, geometric patterns to more organic and irregular arrangements. In 1961, he joined the Zero Group founded by artists Heinz Mack and Otto Piene, who advocated for a new art form—a degree zero—to erase the destructive, violent forces by which human experience had come to be conditioned during the war, and which were expressed in the then-prevalent Art Informel style. The Zero Group made a large impact in the European postwar milieu, influencing a number of artists with similar ideas. Central to the movement were explorations of light, technology, and an expansion beyond traditional two-dimensional confines of the canvas, all of which are implicated in Uecker’s work.
After the dissolution of the Zero Group in the mid-1960s, Uecker's work took a turn toward body, Conceptual, and Land art, and in the 1970s he designed stage sets for several operas. He taught at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf from 1974 to 1995, and was promoted to professor in 1976. Uecker has been the recipient of numerous prestigious awards, such as the Staatspreis des Landes Nordrhein-Westfalen in 2015. His work has been exhibited at museums around the world, including the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam; the Budapest Museum of Fine Art, Budapest; the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; Ca’ Pesaro, International Gallery of Modern Art, Venice; and the Belvedere Museum, Vienna. He has also participated in documenta, Kassel in 1964, 1968, and 1977, and the Venice Biennale in 1970. The artist’s work is included in the collections of international institutions such as the Tate Modern, London; the Museum of Modern Art, New York; Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles; the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; Musée national d’art moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris; the Hamburger Bahnhof, Berlin; the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice; and the Museum Ludwig, Cologne.
Recent exhibitions of Uecker’s work include a large-scale retrospective at K20 am Grabbeplatz, Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, Düsseldorf, in 2015; and a solo exhibition, Tribute to Hafez, at the Imam Ali (AS) Religious Arts Museum, Tehran, in 2016. He was featured prominently in the 2014–15 exhibition ZERO: Countdown to Tomorrow, 1950s–60s at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York. Uecker’s eight-panel painting Weiβe Bilder: Weiβe Stelle (White Pictures: White Place) (1992) was included in the Punta Della Dogana, Venice’s exhibition Accrochage, in June 2016, and his seminal sculpture, Chair (II) (1963) is featured in the Museum of Modern Art, New York’s recent reinstallation of their permanent collection.
Image: Installation view of Günther Uecker's Wind (2009) in Sotto Voce at Dominique Lévy in London, 2015
Sandmühle (Sand Mill)
Conceived in 1969 - Executed 2014
Sand, wood, cord, and electric motor
Diameter: 275 9/16 inches (700 cm)
Günther Uecker Untitled 1967 Paint and nails on canvas on wood 32 1/2 x 32 1/2 inches (82.5 x 82.5 cm)
Günther Uecker Untitled
Acrylic and nails on canvas mounted on panel
38 5/8 x 31 7/8 inches (98 x 81 cm)
Günther Uecker Poetischer Reihe Sylt
Painted nails and canvas on wood
17 3/8 x 17 3/8 x 4 inches (44 x 44 x 10 cm)