Material Becomes Pic ture Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest 3 December 14, 2012—March 17, 201
Artist as Activist “The sources of art are not to be found in art, rather art sources live outside the realm of art… by using the artistic means and methods at which I’m adept, I can expose and express my individual perception, my shock, my standpoint. The artwork is a syphon for shock, a code for compassion, for existence, for a rebellious stance in life. It excites me, it ignites me.”
Getting the Lay of the Land The title of the exhibition, Uecker. Material Becomes Picture emphasizes Uecker’s return to certain materials over and over again throughout his career. To get an overview of the materials Uecker prefers, walk around the exhibition and take a look at the pieces on display.
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Why Nails? Ueckerâ€™s use of nails originates from an experience he had as a teenager. He grew up in Northern Germany on the Wustrow Peninsula which served as a place for German defence planes to be tested. During WWII, all the men had to leave the peninsula to go to the front and only the women were left behind. When the Russian soldiers invaded, it was he who had to nail boards up over the windows to secure his home. Many people wonder why he has used nails in so many of his works. Uecker says that in some cases, the nails are an extension of his fingers, in other instances they allow a two-dimensional surface to become a threedimensional object. Art historian Alexander Tolnay writes, â€œThe energy used to hammer the nails corresponded to his inclination to get involved physically in producing art and to make his own physical effort visible in the work.â€? Furthermore, Uecker simply uses them as a tool, a consciously chosen material which allows him to express his ideas and feelings about our way of life.
Two Dimensions Become Three In the 1950s Uecker and other artists wanted to transform the two-dimensional surface of the canvas into a threedimensional one. When speaking about his initial work he says, â€œI was curious how my actions could create something that casts a shadow on paper, on a surface. In the beginning, I used a metal comb to draw furrows into the paint. These identical structures were created alongside each other, using needles and brushes made of iron to carve into the paint.â€? Later he substituted the metal comb for a nail, which became his preferred design element. Circle Circles and Interferences are two pieces in a series using this technique. These works also include an element of kinetic art as what we see changes depending on how close we are or whether we walk around the pieces or stand still.
They bought everything that wasnâ€™t nailed down. In the 1950s, Uecker also used nails to comment on the tendency of the middle-class to acquire everyday objects, usually status symbols, such as pianos, televisions and household appliances. The nails function as elements to form space, allowing Uecker to not only comment on materialism, but also giving the objects a new purpose, transforming them into objects of art. Art and Everyday Life Do you find these works funny or serious? Ridiculous or thought provoking? Is the mood light or heavy? Ironic or straightforward? How would you describe them?
Why White? On Bedside Table the paint enhances the interplay between light and shadow. For Uecker, however, white also holds a much deeper meaning as the visualization of emptiness. He explored the philosophical implications of white in his work. He painted his whole studio white, even the floor. Since he kept this space inaccessible to outsiders, he became completely absorbed in it, which gave him a sense of security. Later, in 1972, he reproduced this in a performance where at the end, he painted himself white as well*. Becoming a “white person,” however, has no connection with ethnicity. Rather it refers to an individual, who, after gaining experience in the working world, in the world of consumerism, becomes and “empty person.”
*A recording of this performance can be seen in the exhibition.
Why Circles? When asked what do circle, cycle and circular motion symbolize, Uecker replied, â€œThe finitude of our existence. We are reluctant to accept the rules of Creation, therefore we are finite. And so the act of walking along a circle may help us transcend our finite existence and perhaps step into another time. However, not as the result of a deliberate action, but by experiencing the spatial-temporal aspect of this circular motion. This experience can convey something that exists beyond finitude.â€? Why ZERO? In the 1960s Uecker joined the ZERO group. His connection with them influence pieces he made for several years. After the oppressive experiences of wartime and in distinguishing themselves from gestural painting (in which paint is spontaneously dribbled, splashed or smeared onto the canvas instead of being carefully applied,) the ZERO group consciously dealt with a pictorial language suffused with light. Pure colour or light as an illustration of cosmic powers became a synonym for the liberation of the individual. A third factor prompted experiments with new materials which included new technological achievements of the day. Light and movement became the central point of their art.
Why Ash? Uecker felt impelled to create these two pictures a few months after the nuclear power plant exploded in Chernobyl, spewing ash into the air before the wind carried it away.
ve of this disaster? What memories do you ha something after it Did you feel motivated to do gedy changed your happened? How has this tra thinking? Take a Closer Look Uecker explains that when making these two pieces, “I lay on my back on the canvas and with the help of ash mixed with glue as if in an epileptic seizure I gave code like expression to the unspeakable which is also unthinkable. I thought this is the only option at the point where language fails – that is the point where the picture begins.”
e of materials How important are his choic -sized? and the fact that they are life em more connected Does one of the pictures se to the Chernobyl disaster?
Why Knives? Ueckerâ€™s interest in nature inspired him to travel all over the world. In 1985, he spent time on a Native American reservation in Arizona. The three works entitled Black Mesa refer to a mountain rich in uranium. Native Americans identify this as a sacred place, feeling that it represents the power of the gods. Nevertheless, the U.S. government wanted to mine it, robbing the Indian community of its spiritual identity. Easily Hurt and Needing Protection Uecker uses knives and sometimes nails to show the vulnerability of people and nature. The bowl of water and the rock in the middle of these installations represent the natural resources needing protection.
the construction of How stable or fragile does objects appear? reflect How does their construction the vulnerability of nature?
Why Writing? Uecker originally created Black Rain for an exhibition in China. The splotches on these five long sheets of paper suggest a written message and refer to radio active rain. Uecker wanted to make a statement about the amount of goods produced in China and the enormous amount of abhorrent pollution emitted by the factories that manufacture them. Ink and Paper He also wanted to share his admiration for Chinaâ€™s rich cultural history as writing and drawing with ink on paper was practiced by the ancient Chinese. Art without End While this is the last work displayed in the exhibition, the end of the paper is nowhere in sight.
rposely decided not to
Why do you think Uecker pu show it to us?
Your Art is your Message Exhibitions donâ€™t have to end when we leave to go home. Maybe youâ€™ve been inspired to create a piece of art about important things that happen to you.
materials, Experiment with all sorts of shapes and sizes. tely n if others do not immedia eve lf, rse you s res exp to e Feel fre your story. understand. Just tell them
Works of Art and Archive Photographs (details) On the cover Günther Uecker holding a giant nail in the street. Baden-Baden, 1968 Page 2-3 Interferences, 1980. Nails and oil paint on wood Page 4 Circle Circles, 1985. Nails, graphite, and canvas on wood Page 5 Malzeit, 1963. Nails, oil paint, porcelain on wood Page 6 Excerpt from the film Black Room – White Room, 1972. 39 min 34 sec Page 7 Walking in a Circle, 1974 –1975. White latex on canvas Page 8 Ash Man, 1986. Ash, glue, graphite on canvas Ash Man, 1986. Ash, glue, graphite on canvas Page 9 Black Mesa. Hanging Lake, 1985. Various materials, wood, metal, textile, rope Page 10 Black Rain, 2006. India ink on paper Page 11
Günther Uecker working in his studio
Photography: Baschang & Herrmann, München; Philipp Schönborn, München; Nic Tenwiggenhorn, Düsseldorf Archive Photographs: Uecker Photo-Archive, Düsseldorf Written by Litza Juhasz Design by David Remsey, Ágnes Megyeri Proof-reading: Eszter Szász Published by Dr. László Baán Special thanks to Kinga Bódi, the co-curator of the exhibition