The Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam proudly 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.”
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.
Research project and catalogue
ZERO: Let Us Explore the Stars is the conclusion of a three-year research project that explored the significance of the international ZERO network. Jointly undertaken by the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, the ZERO Foundation, Düsseldorf, and the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam, the project sought to achieve a greater understanding by asking questions such as: How can we re-read ZERO, looking beyond its image as “the movement of the white paintings”? The project resulted in three unique exhibitions in New York, Berlin, and Amsterdam which propose considering ZERO as the missing link in avant-garde art of the 20th century.
An extensive joint catalogue accompanies the exhibition. The publication is edited by Margriet Schavemaker, curator and head of research and publications at the Stedelijk, and Dirk Pörschmann, academic staff member of the ZERO Foundation. Also included are essays by Antoon Melissen, Johan Pas, Francesca Pola, and Thekla Zell, plus a transcript of a conversation between Mattijs Visser and Daniel Birnbaum.
The exhibition ZERO: Let Us Explore the Stars is made possible with leading support of the benefactors of the Stedelijk Museum Fonds and additional support of the Prins Bernhard Cultuurfonds with thanks to Van der Vossen-Delbrück Fonds and the Straver Fonds, Kunststiftung NRW, Goethe Institut, Embassy of the Federal German Republic, Pro Helvetia, Daimler Art Collection and IFA.