Gunther Uecker

White Field

1964

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Original title
Weisses Feld
Medium
Painted nails on canvas and board
Dimensions
Object: 870 x 870 x 76 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Purchased 1964
Reference
T00684

Summary

White Field 1964 is a square abstract relief by the German artist Günther Uecker. The work is composed of a tightly organised pattern of thin white painted nails with small heads set into a wood panel covered in white painted canvas. The nails cover the entire surface of the work, protruding at progressively graded angles and forming swirling clusters and small internal wave patterns. The entire front of the work is painted with white emulsion, including the nails, canvas and board. On the reverse of the work, above the stapled edge of the canvas at the centre top, ‘HAUT’ (upper) is written in blue ballpoint pen, and in red ink below ‘SR 984’. In black felt-tip pen at the top right of the canvas ‘WEISSES FELD II’ is written, and in blue ballpoint pen at the centre left and bottom right appear the inscriptions ‘WEISSES FELD II’ and ‘UECKER 64’. The artist’s name and the catalogue number for the work are also written in pencil.

White Field is part of a series entitled Fields in Movement, which consists of twenty works (see Alley 1981, p.733). Other works in the series include White Field 1964 (Museum of Modern Art, New York) and White Field 1964 (Walker Art Center, Minneapolis). Uecker noted in 1965 that he had been working on the Fields in Movement series for a year and that the ‘White Field is an important and typical work from the series’ (quoted in Alley 1981, p.733). ‘The basic theme,’ Uecker explained, ‘is the organic development of a point in differently directed paths of movement to create fields of oscillation’ (quoted in Alley 1981, p.733). In 1969 Uecker compared the process of making the Fields in Movement series to a form of meditation, during which he could achieve a state of deep spiritual awareness through the repeated physical action of hammering the nails into the canvas-covered boards:

Holding bundled nails in the left hand, selecting a nail with the right, which holds a hammer, setting it and hammering it in. Tensing and relaxing the shoulder muscles in a left-to-right motion, tensing the neck muscles when striking a blow. Total relaxation of the facial muscles. Concentration on the heads of the nails, which are always the same distance from the base plate – a suggestive point, identical form of the point in constant repetition. The perception of repetitions –thoughts are eradicated – a state of emptiness.
(Quoted in Tolnay 2006, p.60.)

Uecker introduced the nail into his works in 1957. As artist and curator Willoughby Sharp observed: ‘he discovered that the nail was the ideal carrier of light’, with the ‘white zones’ of the Fields in Movement series providing ‘the purest clearest area of light articulation’ (quoted in Uecker, exhibition catalogue, Howard Wise Gallery, New York 1966, unpaginated). Uecker, Sharp explained, was concentrating on the perceptual possibilities of the nail, creating works that activated light and the optical sensation of a spatial shift (see Howard Wise Gallery 1966, unpaginated).

The importance of movement and light to White Field is highlighted by Uecker’s artist’s statement for the 1964 Group Zero exhibition at the McRoberts and Tunnard Gallery, London, in which this work was shown. The statement, which takes the form of a poem, alludes to ‘the movement of the field / the vibration of light … the white of the beach / where the visible, crowned by light, is lost in the invisible’ (Group Zero, exhibition leaflet, McRoberts and Tunnard Gallery, London 1964, unpaginated). The series was first shown at the Galerie Ad Libitum in Antwerp in April 1964. Two of these works were subsequently shown at Documenta in Kassel.

Further reading
Ronald Alley, Catalogue of the Tate Gallery’s Collection of Modern Art other than Works by British Artists, London 1981, p.733, reproduced p.733.
Alexander Tolnay (ed.), Günther Uecker: Twenty Chapters, exhibition catalogue, Neuer Berliner Kunstverein, Berlin 2006.

Judith Wilkinson
May 2016

Display caption

Uecker began to make reliefs using nails in the late 1950s. The white composition allows the nails to create patterns of shadow across the surface, responding to the light in the room but also seeming to change in relation to the viewer’s own position. Uecker was a member of Zero, an artists’ group that aimed to establish a new beginning in art and culture: the name relates to the last point in a countdown before a rocket is launched.

Gallery label, October 2016

Catalogue entry

Günther Uecker born 1930

T00684 White Field 1964

Inscribed 'Weisses Feld | Uecker | 64' on the back
Painted nails on canvas-covered composition board, 34 1/4 x 34 1/4 x 3 (87 x 87 x 7.5)
Purchased from the artist through the McRoberts and Tunnard Gallery (Knapping Fund) 1964
Exh: Group Zero, McRoberts and Tunnard Gallery, London, June-July 1964 (22)
Repr: René Huyghe (ed.), Larousse Encyclopedia of Modern Art (London 1965), pl.1033; Michael Compton, Optical and Kinetic Art (London 1967), pl.21

The artist has written of this (22 May 1965):

'This work White Field is an important and typical work from the series Fields in Movement.

'The other works of the series are in private collections and museums, including the Museum of Modern Art, New York, the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, the Museum at Wuppertal and the Städtische Galerie, Bochum.

'It is a question of the development of a series on a theme. The affinity between the objects becomes apparent in juxtaposition and at the same time each field has an independent unity.

'The basic theme is the organic development of a point in differently directed paths of movement to create fields of oscillation.

'I was working on this theme for a year and produced 20 works. The series was first shown at the Galerie Ad Libitum in Antwerp in April 1964. Two of these works were afterwards in the Documenta exhibition at Kassel.'

This example is particularly close to one bought from the McRoberts and Tunnard exhibition (no.21) by the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, and reproduced in Art International, VII, 20 October 1964, p.57.

Published in:
Ronald Alley, Catalogue of the Tate Gallery's Collection of Modern Art other than Works by British Artists, Tate Gallery and Sotheby Parke-Bernet, London 1981, p.733, reproduced p.733