The Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam presents a survey exhibition of the innovative, international avant-garde artists’ network, ZERO. In the 1950s and ’60s, this new generation of artists experimented with radical and innovative materials and media. Having experienced the grim, pessimistic years during and after World War II, the members of ZERO strove to create a new future for art. ZERO was the largest-ever artists’ network in the history of art, famous for its optimism, positive energy, and dynamism.
In 1962, the Stedelijk staged the first museum presentation of ZERO. A few years later, a more comprehensive survey, Nul 1965, followed—a presentation widely considered as one of the movement’s highlights. Now, precisely 50 years later, the Stedelijk is proud to present an historical survey that sheds light on how the network’s artists—including Armando, Heinz Mack, Henk Peeters, Otto Piene, Jan Schoonhoven, Günther Uecker, Lucio Fontana, Yves Klein, Piero Manzoni, Jean Tinguely, and Yayoi Kusama—redefined the meaning and form of art.
Beatrix Ruf, director of the Stedelijk Museum, says, “I’m extremely proud that this experimental network is so closely connected with the history of the Stedelijk Museum and that, through this unique research project, we are able to see and appreciate our remarkable collection of ZERO artworks from a deeper, richer perspective.” (from the press release)
After the Second World War, and following the grim years of postwar reconstruction, a group of young artists came together to create a new future for art. Driven by the desire to seek radical new ways to make art, they shared an optimistic, experimental, and pioneering approach. The ZERO artists were passionate about technology, modern materials, the power of nature, and the cosmos. The movement rejected the abstract expressionist art of the day and the traditional idea of the painter who used gestural brushwork to express personal, subjective feelings. The ZERO artists created monochrome paintings in bright colors. The abundance of white monochromes produced by the ZERO group came to be seen as iconic of the artists’ network. But ZERO also experimented with ordinary objects like nails, cotton balls, feathers, coins, car tires, and beer crates. Spectacular effects were achieved by “painting” with fire and smoke, shooting arrows into surfaces, slicing into canvas, or using reflective surfaces that played with light. Fitted with little motors, artworks moved, clattered, and even exploded. Works made from tactile materials like cotton and velvet invited visitors to touch them. Audience participation was crucial in the performances and events that the artists organized. City streets or vast landscapes acted as backdrops to these events.
The artists of ZERO were a “new kind” of artist: they wore a suit and tie, were savvy media strategists, and avid promoters of ZERO’s art and artistic ideas. Thanks to this “new artist,” a rich legacy of documentation that covers performances, exhibitions, and other projects has been preserved. In the exhibition, visitors will discover a wealth of preliminary sketches, projects, photos of artists in action, films of performances, and old TV footage, which together bring ZERO’s ideas to life. (from the press release)
images (cover – 1) ZERO – Let Us Explore the Stars, Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam, 2015, installation view. Photo: Gert Jan Van Rooij (2) ZERO – Let Us Explore the Stars, Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam, 2015, installation view. Photo: Gert Jan Van Rooij. (3) ZERO – Let Us Explore the Stars, Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam, 2015, installation view. Photo: Gert Jan Van Rooij.