The Group Zero Artists
Bright, new start

Art à la Zero: “Cosmic Vision / Lightdisk” by Günther Uecker.
Art à la Zero: “Cosmic Vision / Lightdisk” by Günther Uecker. | Photo (detail): © picture-alliance/AP Photo/Markus Schreiber

The Zero artist movement celebrated light, movement and materials and brought together numerous artists over the course of almost ten years in the middle of the 20th century. Now an exhibition of the group’s work is opening in the South Korean Pohang Steel Art Museum.

By Romy König

In their Düsseldorf studios, the Group Zero artists undertook what were bold experiments for the time, focusing on new design principles and taking movement and light as their primary aesthetic ideals. When Heinz Mack and Otto Piene founded the group in 1957, they were interested in a reset, in an art as divorced from the past as possible, as they saw post-war art as “weighed down with an excess of ballast.” Together with artist Günther Uecker, who joined the group in 1961, they worked to develop a unique aesthetic, something purer to counter the horrors of the past war. They found it in light-kinetic objects, such as vibrating light reliefs that seemed to reach out into the room, oscillating between picture and sculpture. The group’s work involved kinetic rotors and monumental light steles and they experimented with light effects, movement and various materials.

International recognition

Group Zero was soon quite well known: they developed the Zero Space at the 1964 Documenta, a light space consisting of seven rotating objects comprising pieces from all three artists. The group exhibited in Amsterdam and Antwerp, then in New York and Washington soon after. Their pieces began fetching as much as five-figures. In addition to their experiments, Zero organized spectacular campaigns and brought together artists such as Yves Klein, Enrico Castellani, and Jean Tinguely for mutual exchange and inspiration. 
Artist trio Heinz Mack, Otto Piene and Günther Uecker at an exhibition opening for the Zero Group in 2006 in Düsseldorf.
Artist trio Heinz Mack, Otto Piene and Günther Uecker at an exhibition opening for the Zero Group in 2006 in Düsseldorf. | Photo (detail): © picture-alliance/dpa/Horst Ossinger

A liberating end

In1966, the group split up and each artist went his own way. Their collaboration ended with one final joint exhibition at the Städtische Kunstsammlungen in Bonn, flanked by a so-called “Zero-Demonstration” – a evening festival under the motto “ZERO is good for you” at Rolandseck railway station near Bad Godesberg. The highlight of the evening was a wagon set ablaze that rolled from the station to the Rhine where it sank into the river. Mack would later describe this final farewell as a positive ending for Group Zero. Just the kind of ending he had always envisioned, in fact: “an ending that I found just as liberating as the beginning of Zero”.

First large Zero exhibition in Asia

On September 3, 2019, the Pohang Museum of Steel Art (POMA) in South Korea will open Group Zero’s largest exhibition to date in Asia. It has been jointly curated by POMA and the Zero Foundation in Düsseldorf. A total of 50 works by the three artists will be shown, including kinetic light and air sculptures as well as large installations that fill entire rooms.