Kunstsammlung NRW
Günther Uecker in seinem Atelier. Alle Fotos auf dieser Seite: Wilfried Meyer

"The Overgrowth of a Half-Century"

The Kunstsammlung Prepares a Catalogue Raisonné for Günther Uecker

For #32 by Stefan Lüddemann

Florence Thurmes cleaves a path through painted canvases, nail objects, stacks of watercolors and prints. A curator at the Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, she passes boxes of photographs from which paper flags hang. "Film Nagelfeldzug 1969"(Nail Campaign 1969), reads one, others bear captions like Musiktheater Lohengrin, Parsifal 1970“ (Music Theater Lohengrin, Parsifal 1970) and "Zero 1961-1989." Finally, when Thurmes – who holds a doctorate in art history – stands in front of wall against which endless catalogs have been stacked, she has covered the entire circuit, her "mountain," as she refers to the artistic oeuvre of Günther Uecker, all of which is preserved or documented here on Kaistraße in Düsseldorf. In the coming three years, Thurmes will be compiling a catalogue raisonné for this object artist. In fact, Thurmes has been hard at work on this project (which bears the lapidary title Uecker), dedicated to the now venerable ZERO artist, since 2015.

He is a man who has made his mark on art history. Accumulated in Uecker's studio is more than a half-century of art history. "Welcome to my private sphere," says the artist, who looks nothing like his 86 years. With alert eyes, he looks around the studio, extending his arms euphorically whenever he speaks about his work. Now, what Uecker calls the “overgrowth of a half-century“ will be exhaustively documented. His work to date encompasses more than 5000 objects. The catalogue of works prepared by Dieter Honisch in the 1980s, however, lists slightly more than one thousand "Ueckers."



"An adequate catalogue raisonné for Günther Uecker is a desideratum," remarks Dr. Marion Ackermann, Artistic Director of the Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen. In this undertaking, Ackermann is following a double strategy. "We want to publish a book, and at the same time, lay out a structure for a digital catalog," explains Ackermann, who is editing this enormous Uecker bible jointly with Florence Thurmes on behalf of the Kunstsammlung. Both publication forms – analog and digital – are of great value. The elaborately designed book is meant to manifest precisely the materiality of paper and writing around which Uecker’s work also revolves. The digital catalog, on the other hand, greatly expands the accessibility of Uecker’s oeuvre to researchers. Moreover, it is designed to grow as the artist produces new work.

Equally importantly, the catalogue raisonné makes it much easier to cope with the regular surfacing of Uecker forgeries. According to the artist, around a dozen such fakes have been identified to date. Most recently, Uecker explains, he received a communication about a forgery from the Munich auction house Ketterer. "There must be a forger at work," says Uecker, whose works have been exhibited in 60 different countries, and are found today in museums and private collections around the world. The catalogue raisonné will include all authenticated works.

Support for this mammoth project has been received from the Franz-Dieter and Michaela Kaldewei Foundation in the Westphalian town of Ahlen. According to Executive Board Member Prof. Dr. Carl-Heinz Heuer, approximately €300,000 is being made available for the project. "The foundation has assets in the single digit million range at its disposal. These are being used to support selected individual projects of art-historical research in targeted ways," explains Heuer.

Meanwhile, Florence Thurmes looks forward to a protracted period of detailed work.  To begin with, she is working on the approximately one thousand catalogs on Günther Uecker’s work that appeared have to date. "At this point, I've made it as far as 1963," says the art historian, pointing to the initial volumes in a row that extends for many meters. Alongside the catalogs, she is examining the artist’s photographic documentation, which registers all of his work cycles.



Günther Uecker together with Marion Ackermann (left side) and Florence Thurmes (right side), photo: Wilfried Meyer

While Florence Thurmes comes to grips with this vast undertaking, Uecker continues working on new pieces. Hanging in the studio are lengths of white cloth. Uecker is preparing for a very special action that is designed to come to terms with an early traumatic experience. At the behest of the Soviets, Uecker, then just 14 years old, was forced to bury corpses that had washed up on the shores of the Baltic Sea – passengers from the "Cap Arcona," a ship that had been loaded with displaced persons. Now, he is spreading out the cloths. "I’ll never get over the trauma," says Uecker, adding: "Art cannot rescue people, but with art, it becomes possible to get closer to humane values."