Sunday, November 02, 2014

New York: Guggenheim Museum - ZERO: Countdown to Tomorrow, 1950s–60s Exhibition

Photograph and copyright Manfredi Bellati

New York: Guggenheim Museum - ZERO: Countdown to Tomorrow, 1950s–60s Exhibition. At the Solomon R.Guggenheim Museum the exhibition, ZERO: Countdown to Tomorrow, 1950s–60s, until January 7, is curated by Valerie Hillings with Edouard Derom. It is the first large-scale survey in a United States museum dedicated to the history of the experimental German artists’ group Zero (1957–66) and Zero, an international network of artists that shared the group’s aspiration to redefine and transform art in the aftermath of World War II.  The exhibition features work by the three core members of Group Zero, Heinz Mack, Otto Piene, and Gunther Uecker, and by more than 30 artists from 10 countries who comprised the larger Zero network, including Lucio Fontana, Yayoi Kusama, Yves Klein, Piero Manzoni, Jesus Rafael Soto, Jean Tinguely, and Herman de Vries. These artists found common cause in the desire to use novel materials drawn from everyday life, nature, and technology and to develop innovative techniques and formats such as room-scaled installations, kinetic artworks, and live art actions. Focusing on the points of intersection, exchange, and collaboration that define the Zero artists’ shared history, the exhibition is at once a snapshot of a specific group and a portrait of a generation.
On view concurrently the exhibitions, AZIMUT/H: Continuity and Newness at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice (see post below) and Heinz Mack: From ZERO to Today, 1955–2014 at Sperone Westwater, New York (see post below).

 Copyright and photograph Heinz Mack – courtesy Guggenheim

 “A zone of silence of pure possibilities for a new beginning as at the countdown when rockets take off.” 
Group Zero

ZERO: Countdown to Tomorrow, 1950s–60s. In 1957 Dusseldorf-based artists Heinz Mack and Otto Piene formed an artists’ group that they called Zero. The name, as Piene noted, was chosen to denote “pure possibilities for a new beginning as at the countdown when rockets take off―zero is the incommensurable zone in which the old state turns into the new.” Gunther Uecker joined Group Zero in 1961, becoming its third member. In the late 1950s and ’60s, an era marked by increased optimism after World War II, Mack, Piene, and Uecker played a major role in reinvigorating the contemporary art scene in Germany. They also established connections with like-minded practitioners from Europe, Japan, and North and South America who aspired to develop a new and forward-looking vision for art. This larger network of artists emerged from their varied experiences of the war with a shared interest in exchanging ideas across borders and developing visual languages relevant to their own time.
Above. Heinz Mack - Illustration from ZERO 3, (July 1961) - design by Heinz Mack.

Two of Group Zero founding members’ - artists Heinz Mack and Gunther Uecker

 Photograph David Heald - copyright and courtesy Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York

ZERO: Countdown to Tomorrow, 1950s–60s. Filling the Guggenheim’s rotunda and an adjacent gallery, the exhibition explores the artworks, exhibitions, publications, and live events comprising the history of the Zero network, as well as the artists’ common strategies and techniques. From there the show unfolds roughly chronologically and features over 180 works in a range of mediums; painting, sculpture, works on paper, installations, and archival materials that include publications and film documentation.
Above. Installation view.

 Zero artist Heinz Mack, curator Valerie Hillings,  Zero artist Gunther Uecker, Christine Uecker, co-curator Eduoard Derom and Jacob Uecker

Photograph and copyright Heinz Mack – courtesy Guggenheim

ZERO: Countdown to Tomorrow, 1950s–60s. Heinz Mack - New York, New York, 1963 - Aluminum on wood - 160 x 100 x 20 cm - Private collection.

Photograph courtesy Patrick Derom Gallery, Brussels – copyright Pol Bury

ZERO: Countdown to Tomorrow, 1950s–60s. The presentation begins in the High Gallery with an examination of the 1959 Antwerp exhibition Vision in Motion–Motion in Vision, which was a critical moment of discovery for the Zero artists.
Above. Pol Bury - Punctuation (Ponctuation), 1959 - Wood and electric motor - diameter: 70 cm. - Private collection, Brussels.

  Group Zero artist  - Paul Van Hoeydonck

Yves Klein - Blue Women Art
Starring: naked ladies all painted in blue, Yves Klein, symphony musicians
Directed by - Yves Klein

 Photograph Nic Tenwiggenhorn – copyright Gunther Uecker – courtesy Guggenheim

ZERO: Countdown to Tomorrow, 1950s–60s. Rejecting the then-dominant styles in European art, Tachisme and Art Informel, which emphasized gestural abstraction and personal expression, the emerging generation of Zero artists devised new approaches to painting. They explored the use of single colors and serial structures to achieve a minimal aesthetic.
Klein’s Monochromes series proved influential. By limiting his palette to one color and applying dense layers of pigment in an all-over treatment, he downplayed the hand of the artist. Rather than focusing on the personal expression that was central to Art Informel, he pointed to painting’s capacity to convey immaterial concepts
Starting in the late 1950s, a number of Zero artists also experimented with monochrome painting, developing distinctive interpretations and exploring parallel interests in light, structure, and new materials.
Otto Piene used stencils to lay paint on canvas in grid-like patterns intended to emphasize the play of light
In a related approach, Almir Mavignier created works with patterns of colored paint droplets with pointed tips.
Heinz Mack applied serial lines to his paintings to generate a sensation of dynamism.
Gunther Uecker enlivened the surface of his monochromes with utilitarian materials like corks and nails
Enrico Castellani used nails to create pictures that initially look like flat, single-color paintings, yet upon closer examination reveal themselves to be dimensional reliefs.
Other members of the Zero network also turned to everyday materials ranging from cotton threads to roof tiles. In his Achromes (1957–63), 
Piero Manzoni tested the limits of the medium by employing unusual, colorless materials like bread and Styrofoam.
Above. Gunther Uecker - The Yellow Picture (Das gelbe Bild), 1957–58 - Nails and oil on canvas, 87 x 85 cm - Private collection.

 Photograph David Heald - copyright and courtesy Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York

ZERO: Countdown to Tomorrow, 1950s–60s - Installation view. In the foreground Gunther Uecker’s New York Dancer 1, 1965 – Nails, cloth, and metal with electric motor, 200 x 30 x30cm.

Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum’s director Richard Armstrong

 Copyright 2014 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/ProLitteris, Zurich – Photograph courtesy Franziska Megert

ZERO: Countdown to Tomorrow, 1950s–60s.   Christian Megert - Mirror Shard Book (Spiegelscherbenbuch), 1962 - Glass, mirror, and adhesive tape, 42 x 30 x 2 cm - Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Nicolas Cattelain, London.

Group Zero artist - Christian Megert

Photograph - Courtesy Moeller Fine Art, New York – copyright Otto Piene

ZERO: Countdown to Tomorrow, 1950s–60s. Light, movement, and space remained central concerns of the group. The artists broadened their work beyond painting and sculpture to include the creation of installations and explored unorthodox sites for showing art. By the early 1960s, artists in the Zero network had begun wide-ranging experiments with innovative formats, materials, and techniques. The artists embraced the potential of space, both its literal and conceptual senses, by filling whole galleries with their environmental works and turning to nature, specifically the desert and sky, as a viable site for art. The elements of air, earth, and fire figured prominently in many projects, and light continued to be an important subject and material.
Piene used light and air to animate his sculptures of the period, 
Uecker’s sand spirals, which were presented on the floor, brought nature into the space of culture.
Mack’s Sahara Project (described in print in 1961) proposed the placement of works in the desert in order to facilitate various experiences and promote a heightened awareness of light and space. Zero artists saw no contradiction in drawing on both nature and technology for materials and sources of inspiration in their efforts to call attention to the significance of light, movement, and space in contemporary society and culture.
Concluding the exhibition is Light Room: Homage to Fontana (Lichtraum: Hommage à Fontana), an installation Group Zero presented at Documenta 3 (Kassel, West Germany) in 1964. It encapsulates the Zero artists’ innovative approaches to light and movement and encourages experiential encounters rather than mere looking.
Above. Otto Piene - Light Ballet (Light Satellite) (top) and Light Ballet (Light Drum), 1969 - Chrome, glass, and light bulbs - sphere diameter: 38 cm - drum height: 45.7 cm - diameter: 124.5 cm - Moeller Fine Art, New York.

  Zero artist - Jan Henderikse

Photograph Ellen Labenski - copyright The Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, New York - copyright 2014 Artists Rights Society (ARS)/SIAE Rome

ZERO: Countdown to Tomorrow, 1950s–60s. Piero Manzoni - Achrome, 1961 - Fiberglass, fabric, wood, paint, and acrylic glazing, 66.8 x 58.4 x 24.8 cm - Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, Gift, Manzoni Family 93.4225.



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