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The Founders of Zero Art Go Down Under

  • Gianni Colombo - Spazio elastico, (Elastic Space)
  • Marcel Duchamp - Rotoreliefs
  • Otto Piene - Pirouetten (Pirouettes)
July 28, 2018
Balasz Takac is alias of Vladimir Bjelicic who is actively engaged in art criticism, curatorial and artistic practice.

The European art scene in the post-war period was largely affected by the WWII trauma, so the majority of the artists were focused on the notion of human existence. On the other hand, the previous activity of the avant-gardists was a solid ground for further experimentation, which had coincided with The Cold War struggle of conquering space.

An artistic group which encompassed both occupations in a particular manner was called Zero. It was one of the major phenomena of the second half of the twentieth century centered around the network of international collaborators and their practice is shown at the exhibition of the same title at The Museum of Old and New Art – for the first time in Australia.

Günther Uecker - Lichtregen (Light Rain)
Günther Uecker – Lichtregen (Light Rain), 1966, detail; recreated in 2018. Based on the original Lichtregen of 1966, Zero Foundation, Düsseldorf, made exclusively for ZERO at Mona. Copyright: Günther Uecker. Image courtesy Museum of Old and New Art (Mona)

A Brief Overview of Zero Group’s Activity

The Zero group was initially established in Düsseldorf with the ideas of radical rejection of reality and construction of possible future. They perceived individualism as an oppressive discourse, and they were looking for the vision of things, as Otto Piene, one of the founding artists once stated.

By embracing experiment as a constitutive element of their practice, the members of Zero were fully focused on the immediate physical sensory experience of the spectator, and their works resist categorization due to apparent ephemerality expressed through one-night exhibitions with music and manifestos, optical and sound effects.

Yves Klein - Pigment pur (Pure Pigment)
Yves Klein – Pigment pur (Pure Pigment), 1957; recreated in 2018. Private collection. Copyright The Estate of Yves Klein. ADAGP/Copyright Agency, 2018. Image courtesy Museum of Old and New Art (Mona)

Highlights of The Exhibition

Perhaps the most frequent theme present within the Zero production is vibration, so the whole concept takes that in consideration, but along with other recurrent motifs. As a matter of fact, it was the theme of the eight editions of evening exhibition and of the second issue of the journal Zero back in 1958.

For the purposes of this immersive exhibition, a large number of Zero’s installations are reconstructed for the first time. Made of perceptual distortions electric light and moving parts, these works show the best early examples of Kinetic and Sound art.

The list of artists covers the representatives from each country – from German assembly consisting of Otto Piene, Heinz Mack, Günther Uecker and Adolf Luther, to the Italians Enrico Castellani, Lucio Fontana, Nanda Vigo, Grazia Varisco, and Gianni Colombo, the French Marcel Duchamp, Yves Klein and François Morellet, Henk Peeters from The Netherlands and Christian Megert from Switzerland, Yayoi Kusama from Japan and Jesús Soto from Venezuela.

Adolf Luther - Flaschenzerschlagungsraum, (Bottle Smashing Room)
Adolf Luther – Flaschenzerschlagungsraum, (Bottle Smashing Room), 1961; recreated in 2018. Collection Adolf Luther Stiftung, Krefeld. Copyright: Adolf Luther Stiftung. Image courtesy Museum of Old and New Art (Mona)

Zero Art at MONA

Although the original group disbanded in 1966, their legacy is immensely important and it seems that it gave wings to young artists who started working a bit later within the Conceptual art. Mattijs Visser, is the founder of the Institute of Contemporary Archaeology and a research specialist in the art of the sixties, stated that:

Zero is one of the most significant, yet largely forgotten, art movements since the Second World War. Internationally, ZERO has had a major influence on contemporary artists and curators. ZERO needs to be discovered now, while several of their speakers are still with us.

The amazing ZERO exhibition will be on display at MONA in Berriedale, Australia until 22 April 2019

Featured images: Gianni Colombo – Spazio elastico, (Elastic Space), 1967–68. Collection Gianni Colombo Archive, Milan © Gianni Colombo Archive. Image courtesy Museum of Old and New Art (Mona); Marcel Duchamp – Rotoreliefs (Rotoreliefs), 1965. Collection Kern, Großmaischeid. Copyright: Nicolas Schöffer. ADAGP/Copyright Agency, 2018. Image courtesy Museum of Old and New Art (Mona); Otto Piene – Pirouetten (Pirouettes), 1960s; recreated in 2012. Collection More Sky © Otto Piene. VG Bild-Kunst/ Copyright Agency, 2018. Image courtesy Museum of Old and New Art (Mona).