ZERO Movement: Countdown to Tomorrow at the Guggenheim

zero movement

The New York Guggenheim Museum presents Countdown to Tomorrow: The International Zero Network, 1950s-60s from October 10, 2014 through January 7, 2015. This comprehensive historical exhibit will be shown for the first time in the United States and is devoted to the German art movement, ZERO.

The ZERO movement was created by Otto Piene and Heinz Mack, in 1957, and in 1961, Gunther Uecker joined the progressive group. The ZERO movement was an international network of like-minded European artists that shared the same aspirations to transform and redefine art in the aftermath of the Second World War.

The notion of the term “ZERO” happened after months of searching for the right expression. ZERO indicated a “zone of silence and pure possibilities.” It stood for a fresh start similar to a rocket countdown, when the rocket takes off on “zero.”

The members embarked on a new beginning in the historical and artistic context on the principles of art. Still in the wake of wartime and with abstract expressionism in force, the ZERO movement intentionally devised a “monochrome pictorial language suffused with light.” The artists strove to “banish any trace of personal style,” and instead bring to light elements of the “non-art world” into their artwork.

Their undertaking concentrated on pure color or pure light as the fundamental premise of their art. For the artists, their approach was the essence of “cosmic powers” that in turn would become the alternative for the freedom of the individual.  The group wished to transform post-war art beyond Europe’s borders. What began in Düsseldorf, Germany would foster in under a decade into one of the most noteworthy avant-garde movements of the 20th century.

zero movement

The young artists in Düsseldorf were finding increasingly difficult to get galleries to consider their work. They were not “willing or able,” to take a genuine interest in the movement’s work and creativity. Several of the artists began organizing “night exhibitions” in Düsseldorf, consisting of a singular, private preview night.

In 1958, Heinz Mack wrote a statement on the “New Dynamic Structure.” He expressed that the “almost accidental discovery of art” transpires without warning, and “disturbs our common sense.” He stated “theoretical contemplation is only dangerous to the artist when it is speculative,” and after the impression of the completed piece does not “both anticipate and follow the work.”

The Guggenheim exhibit features more than 30 artists, representing nine countries, who have explored the experimental practices developed by the ZERO movement. Exhibited works encompass a diverse range of mediums that include sculpture, painting and works on paper, installations and archival materials such as photographic and film documentation.

The exhibit is organized around the defining events that compromise these artists’ shared history and artistic strategies, collaborations, exchanges and “points of intersection” that defined their shared past. Among the explored themes is the establishment of new definitions of painting with monochrome, fire and smoke, and serial structures. The works introduce movement and light as both formal and idea-based aspects as an artistic media.

For the exhibit, artists employ space as both subject and material, and they explore the “interrogation of the relationship between nature, technology, and humankind.” Live action or demonstrations are also on view.

The ZERO movement continually searched for new solutions to new questions, but they realized that everything seemingly had “already been thought, done and said in the studios” of artists, in the media, by critics and in historian’s books. The three founders realized that “ZERO itself” appeared to be the question that was in search of an answer. The founding members pondered how they could make a fresh start. They felt that they had to abandon the familiar with the intent of discovering “new spaces whose coordinates were unknown.” Finding these blank spaces was the only path to their goal. Mack cited, “there were times when ZERO was animated by this spirit.”

Visitors to the exhibit will at once capture a snapshot of a distinctive group of artists who strove and still strive to find new answers to new demands while exploring new materials and technology. The Guggenheim exhibition celebrates the pioneering nature of both the art and the transnational vision advanced by the ZERO movement during their momentous decade.

By: Dawn Levesque

The Guggenheim Museum 
The Moda Viviendi
ZERO Foundation



One Response to "ZERO Movement: Countdown to Tomorrow at the Guggenheim"

  1. Not   May 2, 2014 at 8:46 am

    The ZERO movement remains influential. However, in conclusion this article’s description of the movement is a bit confusing. If one straightens out the sense of Dawn Levesque’s prose, we discover that ZERO supposedly was committed to finding new demands which might require answers, and solutions that might give rise to new questions. As it reads, posit an answer then look for the question. Perhaps so.


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