On November 15, LGDR will open Shields, an exhibition reflecting on Günther Uecker’s seven- decades-long engagement with nails, paint, and graphite as potent symbolic materials and processual tools. The presentation brings together all nine paintings in the artist’s most recent series Shields (2022), a new and related series of works on paper, and a pivotal but rarely seen sculpture from 1967. Uecker wrote earlier this year that his work “begins where speech fails: in the perception of world and of violence.”
On view through December 23, Shields will be the gallery’s final exhibition at 909 Madison Avenue. In early 2023, LGDR will open its New York flagship at 19 East 64th Street.
The exhibition’s second floor illuminates Uecker’s recent series of nail reliefs from which the presentation takes its name. Featuring bold graphite marks, eddies of white paint, and skeins of nails, these canvases are among the artist’s most revealing and restrained, advancing his experimentation with the format and finding expression in our contemporary age. Uecker created the Shields during his continued pandemic isolation. Alone in the studio, he progressively worked on each composition, enacting a process of opening up and healing, and finding introspection and relief. The more limited application of paint in these paintings, on both canvas and nails, results in panels that are exposed, raw, and immediate, laying bare the artist’s own vulnerability. Uecker’s work directly reckons with social and environmental crises, channeling the emotional imprints of pain and grief as well as spiritual fulfillment and joy. His act of hammering harkens back to his experience as a teenager during the final years of the Second World War, when he helped to protect his family home from Russian soldiers by nailing planks to the windows as barricades. The artist envisioned the dual aspects of a shield as he developed these nail paintings: armor that can serve as both protection and a representation of oneself, bearing a personal emblem or family crest.
Swabs (2022), comprising a grid of forty-two paintings on paper, connects the two floors of the exhibition. Created this year alongside Uecker’s nailed Shields, these paintings are characterized by vertical strokes and atmospheric spirals of graphite intersected and obscured by currents of paint. The work’s title refers to the rapid process of collecting DNA and revealing essential elements of oneself. Each mark here translates and elaborates elements of Uecker’s hammering process, integrating bodily traces into the painted surfaces. Where the depth of his nail works offers kinetic choreographies of light and shadow, in the present work, the artist achieves an equally resonant effect through shallower interplays of transparency and opacity. The intense, spectral presence of Swabs is exemplary of Uecker’s ability to conceive work that seems to transcend materiality itself.
Also on the first floor of the exhibition, visitors will encounter the two-part sculpture Kubuskubus (1967), which offers a distilled dialogue about materiality and perception. One part of the work comprises a voluminous metal cube poised on top of another, held uncannily aloft by a layer of densely hammered nails. The second element likewise features two vertically arranged cubes; but here, the upper cube consists of thousands of nails hammered into lead. Though the forms are the same scale, they achieve radically different optical effects. Uecker once explained, “When I use nails my aim is to establish a structured pattern of relationships in order to set vibrations in motion that disturb and irritate their geometric order. What is important to me is variability, which is capable of revealing the beauty of movement to us.” Kubuskubus references, in part, Kazimir Malevich’s nonrepresentational painting Black Square (1913). With his sculpture, Uecker translates Malevich’s square into four box-like elements, each presenting a unique relationship to light, surface, and gravity. Giving the structures a vertical orientation, he references the dimensions of the human body, creating a dialectic with the viewer.
In its totality, Kubuskubus draws the viewer’s attention to space—that of the viewer, the work, the gallery, but also the passages between the sculpture’s nails and between the two primary structural elements—inviting a phenomenological consideration of the relationships among objects and contexts. Foregrounding the dynamics of matter in space, Kubuskubus, Swabs, and Shields exemplify Uecker’s ability to encourage viewers to experience new levels of perception and consciousness through his art, offering moments of transcendence and hope.
About the artist ~ Born in 1930 in Wendorf, Germany, Uecker studied at the Kunsthochschule Berlin Weissensee and Kunstakademie in Düsseldorf, where he lives and works today. A central figure of Düsseldorf’s postwar Group Zero, Günther Uecker has for six decades developed his reliefs comprising dynamic arrangements of nails. After the group’s dissolution in 1966, Uecker’s work incorporated aspects of conceptual and land art, and he began designing stage sets for operas. Among his public works are From Darkness to Light at the United Nations, Geneva (1978) and a Reflection and Prayer Room for the Reichstag, Berlin (2000). In 2020, he embarked on his series Lichtbogen, minimalist paintings of radiant blue-and-white arcs. Uecker’s work has been the subject of solo exhibitions at museums worldwide. Retrospectives of his work have been organized by the Central House of Artists, Moscow (1988) and Kunsthalle München (1993), and he participated in Documenta (1964, 1968, 1977) and the 1970 Venice Biennale. His work resides in such collections as the Art Institute of Chicago; Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and Museum of Modern Art, New York; Walker Art Center, Minneapolis; Hamburger Bahnhof, Berlin; Museum Ludwig, Cologne; Centre Pompidou, Paris; Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam; and Tate Modern, London. Among his many honors are the Pour le Mérite for Sciences and Arts (2000) and the Staatspreis des Landes Nordrhein- Westfalen (2015).
Günther Uecker: Shields will be on view from November 15, 2022 to December 23, 2022 at LGDR, 909 Madison Avenue at 73rd Street, NYC.
Stay tuned for update on LGDR’s new headquarters located at 19 East 64th Street.