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Ernst Wilhelm Nay

"Ohne Titel (Untitled)", 1964

Watercolour on paperboard

59,4 x 50 cm / framed 93 x 84 cm  ″

Signed bottom right, dated "Nay 64”
Cat. Rais. Claesges Vol. 3, No. 54-058

- with craftsman's frame -

N 9161

About the work

In 1964 Nay participated in the documenta for the third time, in response to a very special commission by the curator Arnold Bode. Nay was asked to produce three works for a narrow, specially created elongated space, which Bode suspended lengthways from the ceiling, and which inclined down incrementally towards the floor. Despite his initial scepticism towards the idea, he was eventually persuaded by Bode. In addition to the works by Sam Francis, which were exhibited in the immediate proximity of Nay's, they rank as among the most well–known works of documenta III. Today they are in the possession of the Germanisches Nationalmuseum in Nuremberg.
In terms of its language of form, this present painting bears a close affinity to the works commissioned for documenta III. Throughout the year 1964, Nay dedicated himself to his so–called “Augenbildern” (“eye paintings”). And in common with his commission for the Kassel show, this delicate water–colour features forms which resemble the human eye. Nay depicts the eye in the shape of a spindle with a black round pupil, a motif which can be clearly discerned in the upper half of the picture. The eye motif is combined with disk–shaped colour fields or more open forms. Equally Nay uses black lines, in addition to the colour, as a structural element to conjure a balanced composition.
Rather than seeking to represent eyes, the work explores the theme of seeing itself. At the same time, the eyes evoke aspects both of seeing and that of being seen. Nay's art explores the fundamental archetypical elements of human or inter–human existence and being–in–the–world per se. Man looks out onto the world in order to position himself, whilst, at the same time, he is also looked upon by his fellow human beings in order that they may locate their position in relation to him. What becomes evident here is that the term seeing extends far beyond purely visual perception. The picture serves as a symbol for a fundamental aspect of life: "This my art does not inform, but renders visible or reveals".
This water–colour is distinguished by its rhythmically generated tension. The composition is both harmonious and, by virtue of the stark contrasts in the structure of the painting's two halves, highly expressive. At the heart of Nay's output lay the desire to fashion representations of the elementary, of which the present sheet furnishes an eloquent example.
(Andrea Fink–Belgin)

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