Behind the Exhibition

The ZERO Movement (1957 - 1967)

Heinz Mack, Otto Piene and Günther Uecker, Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam
© Raoul Van Den Boom / 0-Institute Günther Uecker, Otto Piene, Yayoi Kusama and Heinz Mack, Howard Wise Gallery, New York
© Lock Huey
Poster for the ‘ZERO’ exhibition, The Washington Gallery of Modern Art
© ZERO Foundation, Düsseldorf

Fire, light, movement, space, color, demonstrations, and performances: ZERO used all these elements to create a brand new future for art; and with the vision of a new future without borders, lit the fuse of a world scale art movement.

The ZERO movement was a product of its time. In a period when new technologies were emerging and the space race was at its height, the ZERO artists shared unconditional faith in the future of science and technology and the wish to rebuild the world. Otto Piene and Heinz Mack, who were not only artists but also well educated in philosophy, started an initiative that proposed ‘shaking off pessimism and starting afresh from zero’ in 1957. This initiative later became a magnet for many young artists who shared their anxieties and aspirations. Günther Uecker, a third artist who had a similar vision, joined Piene and Mack, and these three founders, together with three major artists, Yves Klein, Lucio Fontana, and Piero Manzoni, whom they regarded as their ‘forerunners’, they soon drew many artists together around the ZERO philosophy.

ZERO artists all over the world challenged the static approach of traditional art, imprisoned in canvas and frame; taking a completely new path that was constantly in motion, inviting viewers to interact. They focused on an illuminated world and the light that makes life possible and viewed every part of the earth, distant lands, deserts, and space as part of their art platforms.

When founder Heinz Mack announced the end of ZERO at the last exhibition in 1967, the ZERO movement had long since stamped its mark on a period of 20th-century European contemporary art, despite a life span of just ten years. As a movement based on ideas, ZERO avoided becoming institutionalized and evolving into a traditional and hierarchical structure, thereby ensuring its universality and timelessness. With a vision borrowed from the future, ZERO preserves its relevance even today, despite the passage of years since it was founded.


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© HEINZ MACK, Telemack [Excerpt], 1969

The ZERO. Countdown to the Future - Periods, Works

The ZERO. Countdown to the Future exhibition, held at SU Sakıp Sabancı Museum from 2 September 2015 to 10 January 2016 with the sponsorship of Akbank, provided an exhilarating representation of ZERO, one of the most extensive movements of thought and art in the 20th century. The exhibition brought together artworks in different materials and techniques by the founders of the movement Heinz Mack, Otto Piene, Günther Uecker, as well as works by Yves Klein, Piero Manzoni, and Lucio Fontana, who inspired and contributed to the movement. Curated by the Founding Director of the ZERO Foundation Mattijs Visser, the exhibition displayed over 100 works, both from this foundation’s collection and the 18 museums and collections. This version of the exhibition draws on the sources of digitalSSM and presents the documentation of these works, in which nature and technology interact, through a framework upholding both the artistic methods and concepts adopted by the artists within the ZERO movement.

About the catalog

The catalog of the exhibition ZERO. Countdown to the Future covers a wide range of the production of the art and thought movement ZERO, as well as exploring its avant-garde position with regards to 20th century’s political and art history. The catalog features an exclusive article by Norman Rosenthal on the movement's history. In addition to texts written by the artists Otto Piene, Heinz Mack, Günther Uecker, Yves Klein, Piero Manzoni, the catalog also includes interviews Hans Ulrichs Obrist had conducted with the founders of the movement, Mack, Piene, and Uecker.

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