13. February 2015

Max Hollein spoke at the preview of the exhibition "Uecker" at K20 in Dusseldorf. The SCHIRN MAGAZINE presents his speech about the humorous artist in white overalls and his multifaceted oeuvre

I am not a contemporary of Günther Uecker--for when he painted the road in front of Galerie Schmela white, exhibited the huge nail at Kaufhof in Dortmund and occupied the Kunsthalle Baden-Baden together with Gerhard Richter, I had not yet been born. Nor can I brag about being a companion of his, and there are certainly a lot of people, especially in Germany, who are more closely linked with him and his work.

However, as an admirer from another generation, I try--sometimes successfully--to bring works by Uecker to Frankfurt. This impressive, precisely structured exhibition in Dusseldorf, a special event in the world of art and a spectacular constellation that gives us reason to marvel: what an oeuvre, what an artist!

Images of disarray, of precariousness and of urgency

What impresses me first and foremost about Günther Uecker is of course his work, and my response is much like other people's: amazement at the complexity and versatility of Uecker's oeuvre. You experience this directly when visiting the artist in his atelier, where the wealth of works and the constant transformation of what is preserved there turn a studio into a crammed laboratory of constant production and development. It is virtually a mythical site of artistic force and creative work mania.

Paintings, drawings, sculptures, installations, stage sets, costumes, books, photographs and films by Günther Uecker present art as spiritual development, and are witness to an artist who is relentlessly seeking an open field, new scope for action. It is the dynamization and agility combined with constantly regenerating cultic and cultural influences that promote the emergence of a highly emotional pictorial force that sensitively impresses itself on people. A constant process of deconstructing harmony in his works ensures an intensity that he himself has created, acquired. His works generate messages of emotional perception, appealing to us to be human, to become more human. These are images of disarray, of precariousness and of urgency.

Paintings, drawings, sculptures, installations, stage sets, costumes, books, photographs and films by Günther Uecker present art as spiritual development, and are witness to an artist who is relentlessly seeking an open field, new scope for action. It is the dynamization and agility combined with constantly regenerating cultic and cultural influences that promote the emergence of a highly emotional pictorial force that sensitively impresses itself on people. A constant process of deconstructing harmony in his works ensures an intensity that he himself has created, acquired. His works generate messages of emotional perception, appealing to us to be human, to become more human. These are images of disarray, of precariousness and of urgency.

Günther Uecker in his white overalls--an iconic image of this artist and his authentic attitude. Such a demeanor on the part of an artist is indicative of an extraordinary state of preparedness, infinite work discipline, facing constant new challenges. As for the materials he has used for his artistic process, Uecker has continually downsized. While artists around him increasingly opted for more complicated means and more gigantic production processes, Uecker has stuck to simple materials and tools. His first frame of reference is the human scale, his own body, what he can create and is able.

An exhibition like the one in Dusseldorf is about works. Yet Uecker's work is also an attitude--towards art, towards people, towards dialogue. Uecker is also concerned to take a position, a stance--outstanding examples of this attitude are the "ash images" in response to Chernobyl, the work "Matricide in the Diamond Desert", the "Letter to Beijing".In his CV we read "Günther Uecker lives and works in Dusseldorf". At one level this is correct, and the city can be proud of it. But it does not quite correspond to reality, for Uecker lives, works, thinks and communicates somewhere else, somewhere quite different. He leads an intense artistic life and acts well away from Eurocentrism and the western world. Gradually, this global art world is being discovered and urgently processed in our museums--but we have to admit that Uecker got there first!

His travels through Africa in the 1970s are apt testimony to this, as are his actions in the Libyan Desert, his sojourns in West Sahara, his exhibition during the military dictatorship in São Paolo, in Taipei, and in the 1980s in Cambodia, and also in 1988, when he was the first western artist to do a show in Moscow. Günther Uecker has exhibited works at the world's most important museums, and in places and institutions which many of us have never visited or even know of, and perhaps never will. He continues that dialogue indefatigably, in Havana, in Teheran, shows works in Baku, Ulan Bator and Tashkent--because he takes the people there seriously and realizes that it is also important for them.

These exhibitions and the physical and mental efforts associated with them are a constant challenge for Uecker, a deliberate questioning of whether his own artistic idiom and sensibility are capable, adequate and sensitive enough to be relevant in these new, supposedly alien cultural circles, capable of absorbing and at the same time authentically reflecting.

Whereas artists of his generation generally paid attention to strategic matters such as how and where to exhibit, which museum, which gallery had to be "conquered" so as to assert oneself, be successful--particularly on the art market--Uecker applied a very different template to the question of where it was necessary and meaningful to exhibit.For me, therefore, Günther Uecker's work, along with his understanding of art's larger radius for action and extended potential as well as his advocacy of the artist's responsibility as a global communicator, is all the more exemplary. I am struck by his basic artistic, indeed human attitude--free, open, independent and willing to enter into a dialogue.

In 1974 Uecker accepted a professorship of "free art" in Dusseldorf; no other artist could have better defined this apparently empty formula. Art has to be preserved as an authentic attitude and necessary action, particularly when, as a professor, you ride into the Rhenish Art Academy on a camel.In many of the photographs of Uecker we see him laughing, and when you meet him he beams with mirth. I believe there is no other artist who likes to laugh as much or as heartily as Günther Uecker. And that is infectious--you are always delighted to meet him. It is this cordiality, this curiosity and honesty towards others--be that a person, an issue or a cultural circle--which facilitates critical distance and analysis, in turn making it possible to form an intellectual relationship to the other and to reflect on it.This exhibition, this walk through an artist's life to date, clearly indicates that we could not wish for a more human, inspiring, multi-facetted and authentic partner than the works of Günther Uecker, entering into a dialogue about the fundamental forces around and in us.