Günther Uecker

Günther Uecker

Günther Uecker was born in 1930 in Wendorf, Germany. Studying painting at the Kunsthochschule Berlin Weissensee from 1949 to 1953, he left East Germany for the West, where he further pursued his artistic training from 1955 through 1958 at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf. Throughout the 1950s, Uecker cultivated a strong interest in meditative practices and purification rituals, and became fascinated with the philosophies of Buddhism, Taoism, and Islam. He developed rituals of his own, including the repetitive hammering of nails, and proceeded to translate this practice into a central aspect of his work. Hammering dense groupings of nails into panels and readymade objects, he created reliefs that operate between painting and sculpture, and that establish new realms for visual exploration, wherein the patterns of surface, light, and shadow are complex and unpredictable. Multilayered in their meanings, these works are resonant with Uecker’s past, including his memories as a boy of nailing up planks to barricade the windows of his family home at the end of World War II. He also incorporates objects such as monochromatic paint, ash, sand, stone, glass, string, cloth, posts, tree trunks, and other media, using these elemental materials to create works of art imbued with the poetic spirit of order and chaos, creation and destruction. As Uecker declared in 1961, “My objects are a spatial reality, a zone of light. I use mechanical means to overcome the subjective gesture, to objectify, to create a situation of freedom.”

Uecker expanded his practice further in the 1960s by introducing kinetic and electrical elements into his works, while shifting his methodology from precise, geometric patterns to more organic and irregular arrangements. In 1957, Uecker first exhibited with Heinz Mack and Otto Piene, who founded the Zero Group, which he formally joined in 1961. They advocated for a new art form—a degree zero—to erase the destructive forces by which human experience had come to be conditioned during the war, and which were expressed in the then-prevalent art informel style. Central to the movement were explorations of light, technology, and an expansion beyond traditional two-dimensional confines of the canvas, all of which are explored by Uecker.

After the dissolution of Group Zero in the mid-1960s, Uecker's work became increasingly performative, incorporating aspects of body, conceptual, and land art. Starting in the 1970s, he has designed stage sets for several operas. He taught at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf from 1974 to 1995 and was promoted to professor in 1976. In 1978, Uecker created the multipaneled wall relief Von der Dunkelheit zum Licht (From Darkness to Light) for the United Nations Office in Geneva. In 2000, he designed a Reflection and Prayer Room for the reconstructed Reichstag in Berlin.

Uecker participated in documenta, Kassel, in 1964, 1968, and 1977, and the Venice Biennale in 1970. His work has been exhibited at museums around the world, including one-artist exhibitions at Kunsthalle Bern (1966); Staatliche Kunsthalle Baden-Baden (1968); Moderna Museet, Stockholm (1971); Kunstmuseum Düsseldorf (1975, 2015); Staatsgalerie Stuttgart (1976); Nationalgalerie, Berlin (1982); Instituto Aleman de Madrid (1988); Museum Moderner Kunst Stiftung Ludwig Wien, Vienna (1992); Museu de Arte Moderna, Rio de Janeiro (1996); Martin-Gropius-Bau, Berlin (2005); Ulmer Museum, Ulm (2010); Tehran Museum of Contemporary Arts (2012); and Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, Havana (2014); and the Imam Ali Religious Arts Museum, Tehran (2016). The Central House of Artists, Moscow, staged a retrospective of Uecker’s work in 1988. This exhibition was followed in 1993 by a retrospective at Kunsthalle der Hypo-Kulturstiftung, Munich, and a large-scale presentation of his oeuvre was organized by Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, Düsseldorf, in 2015.

Uecker has been the recipient of numerous accolades, including the Goslarer Kaiserring in 1983; induction into the German Pour le Mérite order for Sciences and Arts in 2000; the Berliner Bär, B.Z. Kulturpreis, Berlin, in 2005; the Great Federal Cross of Merit from the Federal Republic of Germany in 2006; the Jan-Willem-Ring from Dusseldorf in 2010; and the Staatspreis des Landes Nordrhein-Westfalen in 2015. Public institutions that house the artist’s work in their collections include the Art Institute of Chicago; Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; Museum of Modern Art, New York; Walker Art Center, Minneapolis; Hamburger Bahnhof, Berlin; Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice; Museum Ludwig, Cologne; Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris; Staatsgalerie, Stuttgart; Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam; and Tate Modern, London.

In 2011, L&M Arts exhibited Günther Uecker: The Early Years, the artist’s first major exhibition in New York for over four decades. This exhibition featured the artist’s paintings, panels, and structures dating from the late 1950s through the 1960s. In 2016, Dominique Lévy presented Günther Uecker: Verletzte Felder (Wounded Fields), the first exhibition of his work in London for over fifty years. To create this new body of work, Uecker painted canvas-covered panels with thick white pigment, hammered dense groupings of nails into their surfaces, and split the some of the panels with an axe, creating deep gashes that disrupt the integrity of their surfaces with a striking gesture. In 2019, Lévy Gorvy opens Günther Uecker: Notations uniting new large-scale nail paintings with a collection of watercolors created by the artist during his global travels.

Günther Uecker lives and works in Düsseldorf.


Selected Works

  • Sandmühle (Sand Mill)
    Conceived in 1969 - Executed 2014
    Sand, wood, cord, and electric motor
    Diameter: 275 9/16 inches (700 cm)

  • Untitled
    Paint and nails on canvas on wood
    32 1/2 x 32 1/2 inches (82.5 x 82.5 cm)

  • Untitled
    Acrylic and nails on canvas mounted on panel
    38 5/8 x 31 7/8 inches (98 x 81 cm)

  • 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)



Günther Uecker: Lichtbogen at Lévy Gorvy Paris, 2020

October 13, 2020


Museum Exhibitions


Selected Press

RTL | Schwerin würdigt Günther Uecker mit Schau zum 90. Geburtstag

February 20, 2020

Der 90. Geburtstag von Günther Uecker wird in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, wo der Künstler 1930 geboren …

Schwerin Lokal | Schwerin: Austellung zum 90. von Günther Uecker

February 18, 2020

Am kommenden Donnerstag (20. Februar 2020) eröffnet um 18 Uhr die Ausstellung "UECKER 90" aus Anlass …

Galleries Now | Günther Uecker: Notations

November 15, 2019

Lévy Gorvy presents Günther Uecker: Notations, the artist’s first solo exhibition with the gallery …

Art Market Monitor | A Günther Uecker Emerges to Measure His Market

November 15, 2019

This Günther Uecker work coming up at auction at Ketterer Kunst on December 6th in Munich is a strong …

MoMA | Art after the Wall

November 15, 2019

From late 1950s, Gunther Uecker began repetitively hammering nails into ordinary objects. The action …

Frieze | Günther Uecker Nails It Again

November 15, 2019

Whatever you are doing right now, there is a good chance that Günther Uecker is hammering. Now almost …

Art Rabbit | EXHIBITION just opened

November 11, 2019

'Günther Uecker: Notations' 7 Nov 2019 – 15 Feb 2020

Galleries Now | Günther Uecker: Notations

October 28, 2019

Lévy Gorvy presents Günther Uecker: Notations, the artist’s first solo exhibition with the gallery …

Berlin Art Link | Exhibition // Socle du Monde: Denmark’s Oldest Contemporary Art Biennial

April 27, 2017

Considering that the Socle du Monde biennial art event in Herning, Denmark only began in 2002, it’s …

New York Times | The Look of ’70s SoHo — Captured in One Apartment

February 9, 2017

The apartment, with its fine examples by Günther Uecker, Enrico Castellani, Lucio Fontana and Agostino …

Apollo Magazine | Taking Risks - Gunther Uecker

February 1, 2017

On my way to Gunther Uecker’s studio in Dusseldorf, I manage to lose my way, and when I ask for directions …

Bonhams | Changing Tack

November 1, 2016

If Günther Uecker owns one material in contemporary art, it is the nail: nails are vital in much of …

Randian | Günther Uecker: Verletzte Felder

October 26, 2016

Dominque Lévy is pleased to announce the exhibition of new work by German artist Günther Uecker, titled Verletzte …

Artribune | Londra. Frieze e le mostre

October 5, 2016

leri vi abbiamo fornito una mappa degli appuntamenti fieristici da non perdere durante la London Art …

The Telegraph | Market News: Günther Uecker nails it

September 27, 2016

He may not be the only artist to have used the builder’s nail as a medium for painting and sculpture, …

The Alternative Vision | Is Beauty Always Created from Beauty? "Feld" by Gunther Uecker

September 27, 2016

Günther Uecker’s work is made out of nails, creamy paint and a canvas. The atmosphere is airy while …

Blouin Artinfo | Datebook: Gunther Uecker's 'Wounded Fields' at Dominique Levy, London

September 23, 2016

This show is Uecker’s first solo presentation in over fifty years. It spans two entire floors, and …

Aesthetica | Günther Uecker: Verletzte Felder

September 23, 2016

Dominique Lévy, London exhibits new work from German artist Günther Uecker at the gallery’s Old Bond …

THE ART NEWSPAPER | Günther Uecker gets first solo show in London in more than 50 years

September 12, 2016

For the first time in more than 50 years, the Zero Group artist Günther Uecker is to have a solo show …

Financial Times | The comeback kings and queens of art

May 20, 2016

It was the 1960s and 70s, and America was teeming with groundbreaking protest and game-changing political …

ArtReviewAsia | Art Basel 2015 slideshow

June 23, 2015

Highlights from LISTE, Art Basel Unlimited and more, in pictures...

T Magazine | The Larger-Than-Life Highlights of Art Basel

June 16, 2015

Opening a day before the main fair at Art Basel, the Unlimited sector is devoted to displaying gigantic, …

The Arts Desk | Sotto Voce, Dominique Lévy

February 14, 2015

Sotto Voce is a collection of white paintings, sculptures and reliefs made by European, British and North …

Schirn Mag | Günther Uecker

February 13, 2015

I am not a contem­po­rary of Günther Uecker--for when he painted the road in front of Galerie Schmela …

Apollo Magazine | Pure abstraction: ‘Sotto Voce’ and the appeal of the abstract white relief

February 10, 2015

‘Abstract white relief’ is not an easy term to get your head around. It can sound highly technical, …

TimeOut London | Sotto Voce

February 10, 2015

Everything’s all white in this group show of big names including Jean Arp, Ben Nicholson, Lucio Fontana …

Architectural Digest | Abstract White Reliefs are the Subject of a London Gallery Show

January 31, 2015

The abstract white relief, as envisioned by artists from diverse locations, generations, and affiliations, …

Aesthetica | Sotto Voce, Dominique Lévy Gallery, London

January 9, 2015

The second show at Dominique Lévy’s new London space will map the progression of the abstract white …

art actuel | Gunther Uecker

November 20, 2013

Recontre au musee d’Art moderne de Saint-Etienne. Nous nous saluons dans la salle qui est un peu la …

Artnews | Günther Uecker

June 1, 2011

Güenther Uecker can express as much with a carpenter's nails as most painters can using pigment and …

L'Agenda | Il Enfonce Le Clou

April 14, 2011

Pour la petite histoire, Günther Uecker fut le beau-frère d’Yves Klein. Pour la grande, il est l’homme …

Bloomberg | Mechanized Dancer, Dreamy Landscapes, Brancusi Versus Arp: N.Y. Uptown Art

April 14, 2011

“New York Dancer I” wears a cape of nails and spins to the rhythm of an electric motor. By stepping …

The New York Times | Art in Review: Gunther Uecker

April 14, 2011

Few artists have put the common nail to such varied expressive use use as Gunther Uecker.

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