“Zero is the beginning.” – Heinz Mack, Otto Piene and Günther Uecker, ZERO-Der neue Idealismus, poetiches manifest, Berlin, 1963

Installation view: ZERO: Countdown to Tomorrow, 1950s–60s, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, October 10, 2014–January 7, 2015. Photo: David Heald © Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York.

NEW YORK - “4 3 2 1 Zero […] Zero is Zero.”1 During a late night discussion at the Düsseldorf bar Fatty’s Atelier in 1957, Otto Piene and Heinz Mack finally named the experimental project they had in process for years: Group ZERO. In the following years their new electrifying concept of art and avant-garde methods of art production would grow into a supremely vast international network of artists across Europe, North and South America and Japan.

Otto Piene and Heinz Mack would soon be joined by Günther Uecker (the third core member of the group) along with Pol Bury, Yves Klein, Jesús Rafael Soto, Dieter Roth, Jean Tinguely, Almir Mavignier, Lucio Fontana, and Piero Manzoni, amongst others, all sharing a “mutual aspiration to reclaim art’s experimental and forward-looking potential in the aftermath of World War II."2 ZERO artists would forever rupture and radicalize the landscape of art. Their methods turned to metal, motors, nails, gashes and rips in canvases, lights, flying balloons and the transformation of viewers into participants with art. The ZERO artists created an exhilarating spectacle in a new Europe, reconstructing itself from war and its artists finally regaining their public voices.

The Guggenheim Museum is currently showcasing the first large-scale survey in the United States dedicated to the history of Group ZERO and the ZERO network. Open through January 7, 2015, ZERO: Countdown to Tomorrow 1950s-60s presents the works of over 40 of the ZERO artists in addition to films and archival publications. 

This November 25th & 26th, the Latin American Modern & Contemporary Department is honored to offer two of these pioneering ZERO artists in our November auction: Jesús Rafael Soto and Almir Mavignier.

Jesús Rafael Soto’s Seize carrés vibrants rouges et noirs, 1965. Estimate $350,000–450,000.

The Venezuelan-born Jesús Rafael Soto is one of the fathers of Kinetic Art – a concept heavily explored by the ZERO network. Leaving for Paris in 1950 at the age of 27 to further his artistic career, Soto permanently entrenched himself in this artistic capital. Inspired by the works of Kazmir Malevich and Piet Mondrian, Soto quickly identified unresolved problems in the works of these artists that would become the central focus and inspiration of his entire artistic production: an object’s position in time and space. Soto’s ultimate solution was and still is the brilliant and essential coup for Kinetic art. By using squares – which he considers “the most genuine human form” – superimposed upon a careful landscape of sequential lines, Soto achieves a revolutionary optical illusion of a vibrational and moving state. Soto’s commanding Seize carrés vibrants rouges et noirs, executed in 1965, is a radical composition: sixteen squares reduced to a single chromatic value superimposed against two mirroring fields. Only when the viewer stands in front of the work and moves slightly does Soto’s creation of vibration become ultimately evident.  

Almir Mavignier’s Untitled,1966. Estimate $10,000–15,000.

Almir Mavignier, a native Brazilian, was an essential member of the ZERO network. A young student of Max Bense at the Hochschule für Gestatung in West Germany, Mavignier studied alongside Max Bill and Josef Albers. Already a leading abstract artist in Brazil, the time spent alongside Bense, Bill and Albers along with his immediate partnership with Mack and Piene created a seismic shift in Mavignier’s practice and output. His works became an immediately standard presence in the ZERO network shows, appearing in Mack’s and Piene’s Evening Exhibitions and at Galleria Azimut (the Milan basement gallery operated by Piero Manzoni and Enrico Castellani). Completely “dominated” by carefully drafted and restrained patterns of dots, Untitled, 1966, exemplifies Mavignier’s concept of the sensation of deformation, formation and movement. Just like fellow artist Soto, geometric forms, in this case the square, are deformed and reformed through a serial patterning. If you scan your eyes on this simple pallet of white and black, you will see Mavignier’s creations of light, movement and infinite dimension.


1 Heinz Mack, Otto Piene, and Günther Uecker, “Untitled”, Der neue Idealismus, poetisches Manifest, Galerie Diogenes, Berlin, 1963, in  ZERO: Countdown to Tomorrow, 1950s-60s, (Exhibition Catalogue), New York, 2014, p. 228.

2 Valerie Hillings, “Countdown to a New Beginning: The Multinational Zero Network, 1950s-60s”, ZERO: Countdown to Tomorrow, 1950s-60s, (Exhibition Catalogue) New York, 2014, p. 16.