Zero was the name of a magazine founded in 1957 by Heinz Mack that ceased publication in 1967. The word “zero” expressed, in Otto Piene’s words, “a zone of silence and of pure possibilities for a new beginning.” The movement is commonly interpreted as reaction to Abstract Expressionism by arguing that art should be void of color, emotion and individual expression. Many of the Zero artists are better known for their affiliations with other movements, including Nouveau réalisme, Arte Povera, Minimalism, Op Art and Kinetic art.
Mack and Piene invited artists like Günther Uecker to exhibit in their studio, and the three friends became the founding fathers of the Zero movement, which would soon reach out to embrace artists throughout Europe. Working in an environment without galleries and contemporary art spaces, these artists came together to exhibit their work in a series of one-day-only evening exhibitions, often staged in their studios.
Manifestos were often published in association with the shows, such as Zero 1 (1958), Zero 2 (1958), and Zero 3 (1961). These included texts in multiple languages written by artists and curators active in the Zero circle who sought to define what they termed The New Artistic Conception. The involved artists soon established a vigorous network of collaboration and exchange. Like-minded practitioners came above all from France (Arman, Jean Tinguely, and Yves Klein), Italy (Lucio Fontana, Piero Manzoni, Turi Simeti, Agostino Bonalumi), Spain (Antoni Tàpies), and Austria (Arnulf Rainer). In the Netherlands, the “informal group” of Nul (Dutch for 'zero') artists began around 1958 and can be narrowed to four: Jan Schoonhoven, Armando, Jan Henderikse and Henk Peeters, who were linked to the Italian and German painters but penned their own manifesto. Latin American artists, like the Venezuelan Jesús Rafael Soto, the Argentine Luis Tomasello, and Brazilian Almir Mavignier became affiliated with Zero while working in Paris in the 1950s.
In March 1959, artists Pol Bury, Paul van Hoeydonck, Jean Tinguely, and Daniel Spoerri organized "Motion in Vision – Vision in Motion", an exhibition at Hessenhuis in Antwerpen that for the first time gave ZERO an international audience. In 1961, Düsseldorf-based Galerie Schmela mounted "ZERO. Edition, Exposition, Demonstration". The movement's first group exhibitions in the United States were shown at Howard Wise Gallery, New York, and Washington Gallery of Modern Art, Washington D.C., in 1964.
Under the rubric "Zero. Artists of a European Movement," a 2006 exhibition at the Museum der Moderne Salzburg presented 120 works by 50 Zero artists. The works were loaned by the German collectors Gerhard and Anna Lenz, a German couple that was involved with the Zero movement almost from its beginnings. Gerhard Lenz had first encountered the Zero group at an exhibition of Piene’s work in a Düsseldorf bookshop more in 1963. From 1974, the couple exhibited the collection in 12 shows over 25 years, including in Frankfurt, Barcelona, Moscow, and Warsaw.
"The Art of Zero", a 2013/2014 exhibition at the Neuberger Museum of Art included works from the museum's permanent collection, by artists who were part of or exhibited with Group Zero, including Getulio Alviani, Hartmut Böhm, Enrico Castellani, Gianni Colombo, Lucio Fontana, Heinz Mack, Almir Mavignier, Henk Peeters, Otto Piene, Jesús Rafael Soto, Jean Tinguely, Luis Tomasello, and Günther Uecker.
In October 2014 the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum showcased the group’s work in “ZERO: Countdown to Tomorrow, 1950s-60s”, an exhibition that featured more than 40 artists from over 10 countries. This was the first large-scale historical survey of the group's work in United States.
From 2 September 2015 to 10 January 2016 ZERO:Countdown to the Future was on display in Sakıp Sabancı Museum in Istanbul, Turkey.
Interest in Zero artists has seen an extraordinary resurgence in recent years, with works from European painters of the period achieving records at auction. In 2010, Sotheby's auctioned off parts the collection of Gerhard and Anna Lenz in London. Initially valued at 12 million pounds ($19.5 million), the 49 paintings, drawings and low-relief panels made up from a variety of media were sold in an evening auction reaching £54.07 million, or about $84.5 million; unusual for a contemporary art sale, 74 of the 77 lots offered sold, resulting in a 96 percent success rate. The sale set 19 world auction records for Zero artists.
Moeller Fine Art, New York, represents the estate of Howard Wise, the dealer who died in 1989 and ran what was perhaps the first New York gallery to display work by Zero artists. Also, Sperone Westwater Gallery has been showing Zero artists for years and presented an all-Zero show in 2009.
- Karen Rosenberg (August 21, 2014), Hail, the Postwar Avant-Garde: ‘The Art of Zero,’ at Purchase College New York Times.
- Nina Siegal (June 11, 2013), Demand Rises for Dutch Palette in Shades of White New York Times.
- Roberta Smith (October 9, 2014), 3 Men and a Posse, Chasing Newness: ‘Zero,’ a Look at a Movement, at the Guggenheim New York Times.
- ZERO in New York, 6 November - 20 December 2008 Archived April 16, 2012, at the Wayback Machine. Sperone Westwater, New York.
- David Galloway (March 3, 2006), European movement with Zero as the sum of its parts International Herald Tribune.
- Officiel website of ZERO.
- Mariana Schroeder (May 19, 2006), Gauging the Impact of Zero Wall Street Journal.
- Catherine Hickley (January 20, 2010), Klein, Fontana Collectors Lenz to Auction $19.5 Million of Art Bloomberg.
- The Art of Zero Neuberger Museum of Art, Purchase, NY.
- "Guggenheim". Website © 2015 The Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation (SRGF). All rights reserved. Retrieved 8/4/2015. Check date values in:
- "ZERO. Countdown to the Future". Retrieved 19 March 2016.
- Souren Melikian (February 11, 2010), A Great Night for Sotheby’s Contemporary Art Auction International Herald Tribune.
- Souren Melikian (February 12, 2010), An Almost Defiant Success International Herald Tribune.
- Adam Lindemann (December 14, 2010), Why the Art Market Is Rising New York Observer.
- Sarah Thornton (February 17, 2010), Out from the ashes The Economist.
- Carol Vogel (September 25, 2014), More Than One Show for Zero Artists New York Times.
- Renate Buschmann, Stephan von Wiese (eds.): Fotos schreiben Kunstgeschichte. DuMont, Cologne 2007 (Exhibition catalogue for Fotos schreiben Kunstgeschichte, December 8, 2007 bis March 2, 2008, Museum Kunst Palast, Düsseldorf), ISBN 978-3-8321-9058-3.
- Anette Kuhn: ZERO. Eine Avantgarde der sechziger Jahre. Propyläen, Frankfurt am Main / Berlin 1991, ISBN 978-3-549-06694-2
- Anna Lenz: The Zero Era. The Lenz Schönberg Collection: Living in Art. Hatje Cantz, Ostfildern 2009, ISBN 978-3-7757-2411-1
- museum kunst palast (ed.): ZERO – Internationale Künstler-Avantgarde der 50er/60er Jahre. With texts by Bazon Brock, Tiziana Caianiello, Heinz-Norbert Jocks, Catherine Millet, Lóránd Hegyi, Valerie L. Hillings, Heike van den Valentyn, Atsuo Yamamoto, Mattijs Visser. Hatje Cantz, Ostfildern 2006, ISBN 978-3-7757-1747-2.
- Otto Piene, “The Development the Group “ZERO””, London: The Times Literary Supplement; September 3, 1964.
- Otto Piene and Heinz Mack, "Zero", Cambridge: MIT Press, 1973, ISBN 978-0-262-16041-4
- Karl Ruhrberg (ed.): Zeitzeichen. Stationen Bildender Kunst in Nordrhein-Westfalen. DuMont, Cologne 1989, ISBN 3-7701-2314-X.
- Klaus Schrenk (ed.): Aufbrüche. Manifeste, Manifestationen. Positionen in der bildenden Kunst zu Beginn der 60er Jahre in Berlin, Düsseldorf und München. DuMont, Cologne 1984
- Heiner Stachelhaus: Zero. Heinz Mack, Otto Piene, Günther Uecker. Econ, Düsseldorf 1993, ISBN 978-3-430-18683-4.
- "ZERO in NY", exhibition catalogue edited by Mattijs Visser, published by the ZERO foundation and Sperone Westwater, New York/Düsseldorf/Ghent 2008, ISBN 978-90-76979-73-1