Günther Uecker is born in Wendorf, Mecklenburg, in 1930. He begins an apprenticeship as painter and advertisement designer in Wustrow, and studies at the Fachschule für Angewandte Kunst, Wismar, from 1949 to 1953. He moves to East Berlin in 1953 and then to Düsseldorf, where he studies under Otto Pankok at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf from 1955 to 1957. There he initially creates figurative and abstract woodcuts and finger paintings and meets Yves Klein, Heinz Mack and Otto Piene. During this time Uecker creates monochrome white nail pictures, that cast dynamic structures through the angle of the nails and the interplay of light and shadow – typical pictorial inventions that characterize his work just as much as the light fields, haptic objects and automated revolving light plates.
It isn’t until 1961 that Uecker joins the artist group ZERO, founded by Heinz Mack and Otto Piene in 1957/58, and participates in their exhibitions (including Documenta 2, 1966) and stays with them till their dissolution. Uecker works with light media, exploring optical phenomena, structural patterns, and vibrations that actively involve the observer through manual or mechanical ways of intervening. With his objects – which, like those of his colleagues concentrate on light, dynamics and space and their interactions, combinations and variations – he uses kinetic light art and, in addition to his nail pieces, works on light plantations and sand spirals. First nailings of objects of use – furniture, musical instruments, household items also appearing in the context of Actions (1964 Pianohaus Kohl, Gelsenkirchen), are created from 1962 onward. Increasingly Ueckers objects develop into spatial conceptions (Salon de Lumière in Amsterdam and Paris; Lichtsalons in Krefeld and Frankfurt). Light and electricity remain central themes. Natural materials such as sand and water are integrated into the spatial concepts through the interaction of the elements, light, sound, space, movement and time.
In 1966 Uecker sets up a studio in New York and goes on prolonged trips to Latin America, Africa and Asia. In 1970 he is German representative of the Venice Biennale, together with Thomas Lenk, Heinz Mack and Karl-Georg Pfahler. Uecker assumes a professorship at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf in 1974. Alongside his object and space conceptions, Uecker also devotes himself to stage designs for theatre and opera, designing the set for Lohengrin (1979 in Bayreuth), or the Wilhelm Tell production on the Rütliwiese (2004).
Since the 1980s Ueckers pieces reflect on political, environmental and historical questions. He reacts to the Tschernobyl catastrophe with the cycle of Aschebilder, while other works are concerned with the situation in Iraq. There is a stone monument in the basement of the former inmate’s canteen, Buchenwald. Ueckers work,Der geschundene Mensch: 14 befriedete Gerätschaften from 1992, for the Ministry of Foreign Relations in Berlin, uses his characteristic materials to relate to the »harming of people through people«, violence against foreigners in Germany. Public contracts, such as the Andachtsraum constructed in 1999 in the Berliner Reichstag, belong to Uecker’s more recent works.
Günther Uecker lives and works in Düsseldorf and St. Gallen.
ZERO – Internationale Künstler-Avantgarde der 50er/60er Jahre: Ausst.-Kat. Museum Kunst Palast, Düsseldorf / Berlin 2006
Günther Uecker, Zwanzig Kapitel: Ausst.-Kat. Neuer Berliner Kunstverein hg. v. Alexander Tolnay, Ostfildern-Ruit 2005
Günther Uecker – »Das Eigentliche…«: Ausst.-Kat. Museum Küppersmühle – Sammlung Grothe, Duisburg 2005
Honisch, Dieter; Haedeke, Marion: Uecker, Stuttgart 1983
Günther Uecker: Ausst.-Kat. Museum am Ostwall, Dortmund o. J. (1984)