Within a mesmerising prism of interlocking mirrors, a miniature white sun levitates, effervescent with energy. Staccato forms project from its surface, suggesting, in their all-over arrangement, radiating cosmic waves. Shifting in and out of complex gridded rhythms, the nails studding Untitled (Spiegelkasten) mark it as a consummate example of Günther Uecker’s powerful oeuvre. Nails, first used by the artist in 1955, went on to feature in the Uecker’s work repeatedly, articulating rigid grids and sweeping in fluid curves, clustering over chairs, pianos and sewing machines. ‘When I use nails as elements of structure,’ the artist explained the prevalence of this material in his practice, ‘I do not mean for them to be understood as nails. My aim is to establish a structured pattern of relationships with the aid of these elements, in order to set vibrations in motion that disturb and irritate their geometric order’ (G. Uecker, quoted in Günther Uecker, Twenty Chapters, exh. cat., Martin Gropius Bau, Berlin 2005, p. 34). In Uecker’s work, each nail is a trace, a remnant marking the transfer of energy, its placement and inclination recalling the physical act of it being hammered in. In his performance Pfeilschießen (Arrow Shooting), 1960, the artist similarly allowed process to dictate result: by firing arrows at a painting, Uecker created a configuration of arrow-shafts which was not the product of aim and accuracy, but a testament to the dynamic energies of the cosmos, and its hidden, mysterious logics.
Created in 1964-1965, at the zenith of Uecker’s involvement with the Zero Group, Untitled (Spiegelkasten) is emblematic of the artist’s search for an emphatically new art form. Like his fellow collaborators of the European avant-garde, Uecker was fascinated by the boundless expanse revealed by the dawn of the space age, responding by suffusing his work with an aesthetic of light and shadow, stillness and movement. The white monochrome, freed of the ballast of art history, became the pure zero point from which utopian investigations were to be launched. In Untitled (Spiegelkasten), Uecker places the white sphere within a chamber of mirrors, causing it to be reflected over and over in the gleaming surfaces, to multiply into an infinite alignment of astral bodies. ‘The white objects should be seen as states of extreme intensity kept in constant flux by the reflection of light,’ Uecker described the interplay of the tangible and the immaterial at the heart of this work. ‘What is important to me is variability, which is capable of revealing the beauty of movement to us’ (G. Uecker, quoted in Günther Uecker, Twenty Chapters, exh. cat., Martin Gropius Bau, Berlin 2005, p. 34).