G++nther Uecker (b.1930), New York Dancer IV, 1965, nails, cloth, metal and electrical motor, 78 34 x 39 38 x 39 38 in. (200 x 100 x 100 cm.), (L0394).[Günther Uecker (b.1930), New York Dancer IV, 1965, nails, cloth, metal and electrical motor, 78 34 x 39 38 x 39 38 in. (200 x 100 x 100 cm.), (L0394)]

Recently we visited Skarstedt to see their new exhibition Burning, Cutting, Nailing. The exhibition explores the dual approach of destruction and creation in iconic works by modern masters including Yves Klein, Lucio Fontana and Günther Uecker.

G++nther Uecker (b.1930), New York Dancer IV, 1965, nails, cloth, metal and electrical motor, 78 34 x 39 38 x 39 38 in. (200 x 100 x 100 cm.), (L0394). (2)[Günther Uecker (b.1930), New York Dancer IV, 1965, nails, cloth, metal and electrical motor, 78 34 x 39 38 x 39 38 in. (200 x 100 x 100 cm.), (L0394)]

Rejecting established modes of representation, the works featured in the exhibition exemplify the artists’ shared quest for a new beginning in art, as in life; one that could respond to a social reality filled with potential and new technological advances in the aftermath of World War II.

Through their use of destructive methods of production, be it burning, cutting or nailing, the artists challenge the notion of flatness as a condition of painting to give way to a new creative freedom by opening up the picture plane to space, light and movement.

Lucio Fontana, Concetto spaziale, Attese, 1967, water-based paint on canvas, 60 x 51.1 cm, Courtesy Fondazione Lucio Fontana. Private collection.

Distinguishing the exhibition from previous surveys on this group of artists, Burning, Cutting, Nailing is focused on select monochromatic works that also address the theme in practice. The result is a thoughtfully curated exhibition of Lucio Fontana’s red and white ‘cut’ or tagli paintings as well as his metal paintings in copper and aluminium; Günther Uecker’s white nail paintings and Yves Klein’s abstract ‘fire paintings’.

By focusing on these blocks of colour, the material qualities of the paintings are brought to the foreground and the dynamism of each artist’s singular practice is reinforced by the repetition of colour and technique.

G++nther Uecker, Structure Field, 1962, emulsion paint and nails on canvas on wood, 60 x 60 x 15 cm. Courtesy of artist and Skarstedt. All rights reserved.

Burning, Cutting, Nailing also highlights the performative aspect inherent in each artist’s practice. This is demonstrated by Fontana’s gestural cuts with a razor blade slicing through the traditions of the artistic canon, Klein’s full-scale theatre of flames burning the surface of his paintings at the testing centre of the Gaz de France and Uecker’s turn as master of optical illusion, hypnotically hammering nails to dramatize the play of light and shadow.

[Lucio Fontana, Concetto Spaziale, Attese, 1964]

Furthering this theme of performance is the inclusion of Günther Uecker’s seminal sculpture New York Dancer from 1965, featured in the landmark exhibition Nul at the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam that same year. A six foot tall, motorised cylinder made of heavy sail cloth with protruding nails, New York Dancer is testament to the energy and creative force of this group of artists.

G++nther Uecker, Inseln (Island), 1964, oil, kaolin and nails on canvas mounted, on board, 39 x 29 38 in. (99 x 74.6 cm.) Image courtesy of the artist and Skarstedt.[Günther Uecker, Inseln (Island), 1964]

The ritualistic act of nailing to create movement is given its most full expression in this whirling object, which at its highest velocity dissolves matter, space and time into one. Positioning the works in dialogue with each other, the exhibition emphasizes the shared ambitions of the artists.

Through their removal of superfluous detail and incisive engagement with the material structure of the picture, they seek both to achieve purity within their practice and to focus our attention onto the philosophical dimension of painting beyond the canvas.

Burning, Cutting, Nailing is on till 31 July 2015.
Skarstedt (23 Old Bond St, London W1S 4PZ)