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Gunther Uecker (b. 1930)
Gunther Uecker (b. 1930)
Gunther Uecker (b. 1930)
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Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's… Read more
Gunther Uecker (b. 1930)

Spirale I, Spirale II (Doppelspirale)

Details
Gunther Uecker (b. 1930)
Spirale I, Spirale II (Doppelspirale)
(i) signed, titled and dated ‘SPIRALE I Uecker ‘97’ (on the reverse)
(ii) signed, titled and dated ‘SPIRALE II Uecker ‘97’ (on the reverse)
(iii) signed, titled and dated 'Doppelspirale 1997 Uecker' (lower centre)
nails and latex paint on canvas laid down on wood, in two parts, accompanied by an artist's architectural drawing
(i) (ii), each: 78¾ x 78¾in. (200 x 200cm.)
(iii) 31½ x 78¾in. (80 x 200cm.)
Executed in 1997
Provenance
Galerie Hete Hünnerman, Dusseldorf (directly from the artist).
Acquired from the above by the present owner.
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.
Sale room notice
Please note that lots 51 and 52 will now be offered as one single lot (lot 51) in the Post-War and Contemporary Art Evening Auction, and not as two separate lots as set out in the printed catalogue. Please note that the work is a diptych as confirmed by Günther Uecker and is also accompanied by an artist’s architectural drawing. The new estimate for Lot 51 is £1,000,000-1,500,000.

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Katharine Arnold
Katharine Arnold

Lot Essay

‘The nails are not arranged in orthogonal patterns, but instead form spirals that call to mind whorls of hair, whirlpools in the sea, or mysterious circles … He began each work by hammering a nail into the centre of the panel, after which he placed successive nails around the first one, moving slowly around the square as he progressed working. Thus the pattern of the spiral and the subtle inclination of each nail trace the movements of his body precisely, and were not intended as a visual effect. While at work, the image he had in mind was presumably that of himself planting one tree after another (providing they were of a size he could hold) on a mountain’ —K. YAMAMOTO

‘In the beginning was the nail, which seemed to me to be the ideal object with which to model light and shadow - to make time visible. I incorporated it into my painting, and it forged a link between the works and the space around them. It protruded as a tactile feeler from the flat surface, much like a sundial. A language of light and shadow emerged from the cumulative diversity’ —G. UECKER

‘The nails were placed at intervals equivalent to the thickness of my fingers. The intermediate space was the proportion of my hand. The handiness of an object has always been related to body dimensions’ —G. UECKER


With each half spanning two metres in width and height, Spirale I, Spirale II (Doppelspirale) is an outstanding large-scale diptych from Günther Uecker’s celebrated series of nail paintings. Hammered into two canvases with bristling precision, the centrifugal patterns of nails create dizzying whirlpools of light and shadow that seem to rotate before the viewer. Executed in 1997, the work bears witness to the artist’s mastery of his signature medium, initiated in 1957 and developed through his immersion in the Zero Group between 1961 and 1966. Giving form to the invisible forces of time and motion, Uecker’s nail paintings were powerful expressions of a post-War Zeitgeist that sought to strip art back to its most basic principles. Though his work shared much in common with the optical investigations of his contemporaries Otto Piene and Heinz Mack, Uecker ultimately sought a language that functioned as an extension of the human body. The spiral – a constant throughout his oeuvre – was central to this ambition. As Kazuhiro Yamamoto explains, ‘He began each work by hammering a nail into the centre of the panel, after which he placed successive nails around the first one, moving slowly around the square as he progressed working. Thus the pattern of the spiral and the subtle inclination of each nail trace the movements of his body precisely, and were not intended as a visual effect. While at work, the image he had in mind was presumably that of himself planting one tree after another (providing they were of a size he could hold) on a mountain’ (K. Yamamoto, ‘Image and Instrumentality’, in Günther Uecker: Twenty Chapters, exh. cat., Neue Nationalgalerie, Berlin, 2006, p. 23). By the time of the present work, the spiral had come to assume even greater significance for Uecker, not only in his mechanically-rotating New York Dancers and his Sand Mills, but also in performance pieces that saw him walk in circles around a fixed point. Echoing the centre of a sunflower, the spinning ecstasy of whirling dervishes, galaxies viewed across light-years and the head of the nail itself, this potentially infinite orbital motion lay at the heart of Uecker’s search for new artistic ‘ground zero’. The present work is accompanied by an architectural drawing that offers an insight into his working process.

The nail paintings owe their conceptual foundation to the earlier and lesser known ‘Unism’ movement inaugurated by Polish artist Wladislaw Strzeminski: a pupil of Kazimir Malevich who insisted on the dismantling of all pictorial hierarchies, along with the rejection of the old structural dualism of figure and ground. Uecker’s early artistic beliefs were strengthened by his involvement with the Zero Group: ‘It was from the start an open domain of possibilities, and we speculated with the visionary form of purity, beauty, and stillness’, the artist explained. ‘These things moved us greatly. This was perhaps also a very silent and at the same time very loud protest against Expressionism, against an expression-oriented society’ (G. Uecker, quoted in D. Honisch, Uecker, New York 1983, p. 14). His recourse to the humble nail may be understood in relation to his rural upbringing in the Baltic island of Wustrow: ‘as a farm boy’, he recalls, ‘I always had great fun in driving the harrow or the seed planter with the horses straight toward the horizon without the furrows ever going off into curves; as a child by the Baltic I always sat by the water, and there I saw sky and water, earth and fire – they used to burn off the fields for the sheep to get rid of the dry grass’ (G. Uecker, quoted in R. Wedewer, Atelier 3, Günther Uecker, Leverkusen 1980, p. 19). At the same time, the nail came to evoke something even more vital for Uecker. ‘As the front closed [during WWII]’, he explains, ‘I barricaded my house from within, which was only an illusion of safety, of course. But nevertheless, it definitely gave an emotional feeling of protection. And this is what the nails represent in my work: on the one hand a defence, like ruffled hair, like a hedgehog curling up into a ball, but on the other hand tenderness’ (G Uecker, quoted in ‘Interview with Günther Uecker’, in Günther Uecker: The Early Years, exh. cat., L & M Arts, New York, 2011, pp. 8-9). Infused with personal symbolism yet fundamentally abstract in appearance, Spirale I, Spirale II (Doppelspirale) embodies the enduring themes that have come to define nearly six decades of Uecker’s practice.

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