Who was the Zero group and what did it represent (1957-1966)? The first room of the Guggenheim exhibition in the High Gallery shows a reconstitution of the 1959 Antwerp exhibition Vision in Motion–Motion in Vision, which led me to the conclusion that viewer engagement was the common theme of this group of artists, as some pieces were kinetic – though not only.
Zero started as a small group of German artists in the post-WWII period. The group began with the core German members, Heinz Mack, Otto Piene and Günther Uecker, and grew worldwide. French artist Yves Klein became involved, mainly by downplaying the importance of the artist’s hand, moving away from the paintbrush. Others artists from the French Nouveau Réalisme movement were associated with Zero in the use of everyday materials. The Italian artist, Fontana, was also an influential figure.
I initially struggled to see a clear link between the artists until I climbed the spiral staircase of the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed museum. Zero artists were avant-garde, mostly kinetic and optic artists, but they also worked on textures on the surface of the canvas. Above all, they blurred the boundaries between painting and sculpture. Zero artists added materials to the canvas as varied as corks, cotton threads, fabrics, nails and bread.
Another feature of the Zero group is that the art is not static. It was a shame that some pieces were not in motion more often or ever during my 2.5-hour visit! Fortunately, the Light Ballet by Otto Piene (1961–69) was on: a dancer-like feast of light and shadows as Piene made the light paint and shine through holes and different patterns were projected in the space with every movement. We were spoiled by kinetic art exhibitions in 2013-14 (Radical Geometry, Light Show, Dynamo, Turrell) but here the Guggenheim shines the light on a relatively unknown grouping of artists. It runs until January 7, 2015.