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Organische Struktur XII: Diagonale Struktur „Zeusfuß" (Organic Structure XII: Diagonal Structure “Zeus Foot”)

Organische Struktur XII: Diagonale Struktur „Zeusfuß" (Organic Structure XII: Diagonal Structure “Zeus Foot”)
signed, titled and dated ‘diagonale struktur Uecker 62’ (on the reverse)
oil and nails on canvas laid down on wood
43 3/4 x 44 1/2 x 4 3/8in. (111 x 113 x 11cm.)
Executed in 1962
Galerie Ad Libitum, Antwerp.
Private Collection, Belgium.
Thence by descent to the present owner.
D. Honisch, Uecker, New York 1986, p. 188, no. 272.
Dusseldorf, Galerie Schmela, Günther Uecker, 1963.
Antwerp, Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten, Zero International, 1979.
Special notice
Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's Resale Right Regulations 2006 apply to this lot, the buyer agrees to pay us an amount equal to the resale royalty provided for in those Regulations, and we undertake to the buyer to pay such amount to the artist's collection agent. This lot has been imported from outside of the UK for sale and placed under the Temporary Admission regime. Import VAT is payable at 5% on the hammer price. VAT at 20% will be added to the buyer’s premium but will not be shown separately on our invoice.
Further details
This work is registered in the Uecker Archiv with the Number GU.62.038 and will be noted for inclusion in the forthcoming catalogue raisonné.

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Lot Essay

Executed in 1962, during the early heyday of the ZERO movement, the present work is a rare and captivating vision from Günther Uecker’s series of Organic Structures. Subtitled Diagonale Struktur „Zeusfuß" (Diagonal Structure “Zeus Foot”), the work’s sweeping expanse of nails unfurls majestically across the picture plane, cascading in undulating motion from the top left to the bottom right corner. The work represents the grand finale to the series of twelve Organic Structures that Uecker made in 1962, and which were unveiled together at Galerie Schmela, Düsseldorf in 1963. With examples held in the Städel Museum, the Buffalo AKG Art Museum, the Museum Ulm and the Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts de Belgique, these works represent an important chapter in the evolution of Uecker’s early Nagelbilder (Nail Paintings). Executed on canvases with curved corners, each is defined by a standalone cluster of nails, which—rather than covering the entire surface—coalesce into a single biomorphic form. Every nail is positioned in varied relation to its neighbours, creating a rippling sensation of life and movement. Many bear an evocative subtitle: the present work offers a playful nod to Greek mythology, invoking the ancient chief deity Zeus who held thunder, lightning, wind and rain at his command.

The work was acquired by the present owners from Galerie Ad Libitum in Antwerp: a pioneering centre for the international avant-garde during the 1960s and 1970s, which showcased the work of artists including Lucio Fontana, Niki de Saint Phalle and the ZERO group. The latter, founded by Otto Piene and Heinz Mack in the late 1950s, and formally joined by Uecker in 1961, would become one of the most influential movements of its time. Seeking to reconceive art as a pure ‘zone of silence’ that gave form to the elemental forces of light and movement, its aims intersected with those of major post-war currents including Minimalism, Op Art and Spatialism. Both Gallery Ad Libitum and Galerie Schmela would play crucial roles in its evolution. The latter, led by the visionary Düsseldorf gallerist Alfred Schmela, hosted the first ever exhibition featuring the word ‘ZERO’ in 1961, during which Uecker famously filled the street outside with white paint. Ad Libitum, meanwhile, mounted the group’s first show outside Düsseldorf, as well as numerous others during the early 1960s. By 1962, the group was beginning to gain widespread recognition, participating in the seminal exhibition Nul at the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam: the following year, they received their first major museum show at the Museum Haus Lange, Krefeld, before making their debuts in London, America and at documenta 3 in 1964.

The present work is a product of this thrilling early period. Within Uecker’s own practice, too, it also occupies an important position. The artist had first begun using nails in the mid-1950s, shortly after his escape from East to West Germany. The humble tool, hammered into canvas, allowed him to break free of the traditional constraints of painting and drawing, creating a tactile surface defined by the free play of light and shadow. The virtuosic formations of the Organic Structures, each alive with fluid motion, demonstrate Uecker’s extraordinary technical facility with the medium during the ZERO years. At the same time, however, the nail held a deeper personal significance for the artist, invoking poignant memories of barricading himself and his family into his home with wooden planks during the Second World War. Works such as the present, meanwhile, may be seen to harbour deeper origins still: its lustrous ‘organic’ terrain seems to evoke his agricultural upbringing on the Wustrow peninsula, where he recalls driving the seed planter in furrows towards the horizon, and watching the flames lick the sky as dead grass was burned for the sheep. Uecker’s reference to Zeus, in this regard, takes on a new suggestiveness: the forces of nature collide across the work’s rolling field, presided over by the all-powerful god of the elements.

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