Nul = 0 - the Dutch Zero Movement in an International Context, 1961-1966 by Colin Huizing, Antoon Melissen, Diana Stiger, Pietje Tegenbosch, Tijs Visser, Caroline de Westenholz, Renate Wiehager, Atsuo Yamamoto, Midori Yamamura (NAi Publishers in association the Stedelijk Museum Schiedam) With the financial support of the Gifted Art Foundation Rotterdam, Harten Fonds Foundation, Schiedam Vlaardingen Fund and the ZERO Foundation, Düsseldorf
A Seminal International Survey of the Legendary Artistic ZERO Movement
The legendary Dutch Nul Group of the 1960s consisting of Armando, Henk Peeters, Jan Schoonhoven, Jan Henderikse and, for a while, herman de vries, has in recent years been the subject of renewed interest, both in the Netherlands and internationally. In September 2011 the Stedelijk Museum Schiedam is staging an international exhibition about nul, the first to be held in the Netherlands for half a century. There are plans for important exhibitions in the USA, Germany and England over the coming years. The publication nul = 0 offers a richly illustrated international perspective on the work of the Dutch nul artists and their kindred spirits abroad.
The publication Nul = 0- the Dutch Zero Movement in an International Context, 1961-1966 reveals the artistic principles of the Nul movement. Leading international writers reconstruct the developments and collaborations of the Dutch Nul group with its spiritual brethren: the artists of the German Zero, the French Nouveau Réalisme, Italy's Azimut Group and the Japanese Gutai Group, as well as individual artists like Yves Klein, Yayoi Kusama and Lucio Fontana. Given the current generation of artists' rediscovery of such elements as time and space, light and motion, the achievements of these artists are now more relevant than ever.
The members of the legendary Dutch Nul Group, declared phenomena issued from reality to be art and emphasized the beauty of serenity, repetition and uniformity in their work. The Nul artists rejected the stereotypical idea of the bohemian in a paint-splattered smock and were inspired by the technological advances of the emerging consumer society. Together they worked on manifestos and publications and organized international exhibitions with like-minded artists. In the process they set the tone for a new artistic climate in the Netherlands and, with the artists of the international ZERO movement, contributed to a watershed in the visual arts that presaged conceptual art, land art and minimalist art.
The Nul group was a collective of Dutch artists who manifested themselves between 1961 and 1966. Artists Armando, Jan Henderikse, Henk Peeters and Jan Schoonhoven formed the core of this group, which felt a kinship with the international ZERO movement that had started in Dusseldorf. They shared a search for a new objectivity in art. The Dutch artists had previously exhibited as a collective since 1958 under the name Dutch Informal Group and found in one another a common dedication to banish personal expression and to paint composition-free images. Artist Herman de Vries took part in the activities of the Nul group for a brief period.
The exhibition 'Nul' at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam in 1962 was their first major event in the Netherlands, organized by Henk Peeters. It presented a broad overview of the international ZERO movement, including artists from France, Italy, Germany, Switzerland and Belgium. In addition to various exhibitions in Dusseldorf, Paris and Milan, another museum exhibition at the Gemeentemuseum in The Hague followed in 1964. Entitled `ZERO-0-NUL', it featured works by Armando, Henk Peeters and Jan Schoonhoven along with works by the German Zero artists Heinz Mack, Otto Piene and Gunther Uecker.' In 1965 came the exhibition 'nul negentienhonderd vijf en zestig', again at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, in which artists from the Japanese Gutai group took part along with European ZERO artists. Like Nu162, Nu165 displayed the broad visual spectrum and the international reach of the ZERO movement, including artists' collectives like Azimut from Milan and Zero from Dusseldorf as well as the New York-based Yayoi Kusama and American artist George Rickey.
The various artists' collectives organized their own exhibitions and produced their own publications, in which they took a stand against the established order. They wanted to break with existing structures and institutions and showed an unconditional optimism about the possibilities of technological progress. Exhibitions no longer had to necessarily take place in museums. They produced objects with modern industrial materials like plastic, aluminium and everyday objects like light bulbs and engines, and created total installations using sound, light and motion. The planned, but never realized, project `Zero op Zee' (Zero on Sea) that was to have taken place in 1966 on the Scheveningen Pier was an optimal expression of their optimism about the possibilities of technology and their dedication to integrate art into everyday reality. At the same time 'Zero on Sea' marked the end of the movement. Each subsequently went his own way, remaining true to the movement's principles, striking out in new directions or giving up art production (for a time).
Nul wants to signify a new start, more an idea and a climate than a particular style or a form; it aims to abandon all that no longer has any viability, if need be even the painting. The artist takes a step back; communal ideas inspire virtually anonymous works that have little left in common with traditional art. What emerges are objects, vibrations, structures and reflections ... Not the banality of daily life, nor simply the regularities of optical phenomena: Nul is the domain between 'Pop' and `Op', or, to paraphrase [Otto] Piene: the quarantine zero, the quiet before the storm, the phase of calm and resensitization.
With these words Henk Peeters introduced the catalogue of the exhibition 'nul negentienhonderd vijf en zestig'. Art was stripped of its traditional forms as painting or sculpture. In abandoning traditional media and in the intrusion of art into reality, ZERO stood at the dawn of a revolution in the visual arts that would unfold in the 1970s and was therefore a trailblazer for minimalist, conceptual and Land Art.
In the wake of major exhibitions in Antwerp (1984), Esslingen (1993), Dusseldorf (2006) and New York (2008) there is now renewed interest in ZERO around the world. In 2008 the ZERO Foundation was founded in Dusseldorf: a cooperative venture by Zero artists Heinz Mack, Otto Piene and Gunther Uecker with the Museum Kunst Palast and with financial support from the city of Dusseldorf. Since then there has been extensive research, more than ever before, using historical archive material; worldwide symposia have been organized; projects and exhibition activities have been given support. The renewed interest in ZERO cannot be considered separately from a renewed interpretation of the past through current developments in which phenomena from nature and reality are isolated or magnified, and in which the boundaries between the artificial and the real are transgressed. Once again we find ourselves at a juncture in history in which we sense an urgency to break with existing attitudes and conventions, the way ZERO and Nul did 50 years ago, offering new perspectives for the future in the process.
The Stedelijk Museum Schiedam is the museum for modern and contemporary Dutch art in an international context. There had been interest in devoting detailed attention to the activities of the Nul group for some time. An intensive collaboration between the ZERO Foundation and the Stedelijk Museum Schiedam has resulted in the exhibition and the book Nu/=0. The exhibition includes not only important works that were displayed in the museum exhibition between 1961 and 1966, but also a number of three-dimensional installations that were made especially for these occasions at the time. These three-dimensional installations are of great significance today: they reveal the ways the artists abandoned traditional art objects like paintings and sculpture in exchange for spatial and social experiences. In the drawings, sketches and proposals for the well-nigh utopian 'Zero on Sea', this evolution is even more explicitly expressed.
NuI=0: The Dutch Nul Group in an International Context re-examines the artistic principles of Nul and ZERO and reconstructs the developments and collaborations of the Dutch Nul group with like-minded artists elsewhere. In his essay, researcher and writer Antoon Melissen discusses the origin, the identity and the historical evolution of the Dutch Nul group in extensive detail. Renate Wiehager highlights the international perspective and the various national identities of ZERO. The special relationship between the Japanese Gutai movement and ZERO is examined in Atsuo Yamamoto's article. The intriguing presence of artist Yayoi Kusama at Nul's events is explained by researcher Midori Yamamura. Caroline de Westenholz, using numerous archival pieces, describes the genesis of and the various artistic contributions to the - sadly never realized -'Zero on Sea' event. Of special importance to both the exhibition and the book are the conversations conducted with the Nul artists over the last two years, which have made it possible to put together an exhibition in the spirit of Nul.
In order to produce this book and the exhibition, in this form, numerous individuals and institutions were called upon for support in a material and immaterial sense. The Stedelijk Museum Schiedam is extremely grateful to all of them for their inspiration, enthusiasm and interest in the realization of the publication and the exhibition.