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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.
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.