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Günther Uecker, Grosse Spirale, 1967
“An instrument like a knife and fork with which we can eat art”
Günther Uecker is a German artist who was born in Wendorf, Germany on March 13, 1930. He is best known for his tactile sculptural paintings which are mesmerising and meditative - personal reflections on the world as he encounters it.
As he explains “It’s about taking the reality of everyday encounters with material that’s lying on the street and creating an expression of life, a cipher, a symbol, an instrument like a knife and fork with which we can eat art”
During his studies at the Art Academy in Dusseldorf, Uecker met the artists Heinz Mack and Otto Piene and joined their international movement ZERO in 1961. Mack and Piene formed ZERO in response to the horrors of the 2nd World War. Piene described ZERO as “ a zone of silence and of pure possibilities for a new beginning” During this time Uecher explored new materials and new possibilities in art. He studied optical phenomena, the structures of light and the illusion of movement known as kinetic art. This art was to attempt to influence the way we see things not just something we look at.
In was during this time that Uecker began to introduce the nails into his practice. This use of the nails was influenced by childhood trauma. During the War, Uecker boarded up the windows of his family home with wooden planks to protect them from possible attacks. The aggressive act of hammering nails into planks to shelter his family inspired Uecker to embed his wartime experiences into his work - like the traces of wounds ploughed into the ﬁeld. The nail symbolises the paradox of ‘healing by hurting’. The spatial realities created by the nails are his responses to the changing moods of nature, to his encounters with people, emotional responses which shape the curves and movement of the works
Gunter Uecker created Grosse Spirale in 1967. It was selected for ROSC 1967, the first of the six ROSC international exhibitions held in Dublin between 1967 and 1988. Uecker was one of the few artists who featured in both the 1967 and 1980 ROSC exhibitions. The Hugh Lane Gallery acquired the work for its contemporary collection in 1968 through the generous donation of the Friends of the National Collections of Ireland.
"Restoring this artwork represents for us a challenge. The complexity of this project lies in the diversity of materials used by the artist, all of which require different treatments. Due to the artist’s use of newly developed materials there is no historical record of how these materials interact with the surrounding environment.
Gosse Spirale is composed of a tightly organised pattern of 7000 thin white small headed painted nails set into a white painted canvas stretched over a wooden panel, the nails creating a circle and small internal wave patterns. The entire front of the work is painted with white emulsion, including nails and the canvas.
Over the years, the nails started to rust as they came directly in contact with the air. This causes the paint layer over the nails to stain, which can flake away from the corroded nail surface. Such corrosion has affected the overall appearance of the work, which goes against the artist’s stated intention.
We consulted and had the pleasure of hearing the opinions of various experts such as Paul Mullarkey and Silvia Da Rocha, conservators at the National Museum of Ireland, Ulrik Runeberg, restorer in the Gemälde der Moderne und Zeitgenössische Kunst Stellvertretender Institutsleiter, Düsseldorf, James Dwan, professor in the Department of Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering, Trinity College Dublin, and Leonardo Borgioli Head of Technical-Scientific Office at CTS, products and equipment for restoration, Italy.
Our conservation intern, Federica Traversa, is currently studying this artwork to find the best way to restore it by applying new research and techniques within the field of contemporary art conservation. We also carried out tests to understand how to remove the rust and how to shield the iron from oxygen, and therefore slow down the degradation of the nails. Informed by the results of the tests , we started to clean each of the c.7000 nails from the rust and dust before continuing with the cleaning of the paint layer on canvas. The work continues…"
Head of Conservation
Hugh Lane Gallery
Günther Uecker (1930)
Grosse Spirale, 1967
Emulsion on canvas and nails, 150cm L x 150cm H x 9cm D Crate 162cm L x 162cm H x 20cm D
Presented by Friends of National Collections of Ireland in 1968.
Hugh Lane Gallery, Dublin