- Heinz Mack
- signed and dated 65/66 on the reverse
- aluminium relief on wood
It was a revolutionary moment for the European avant-garde that seemed perfectly attuned to contemporaneous ideals of the post-war period: “The group’s name signified a desire to make a fresh start and explore new media, such as light, time, movement, and colour in art. The name also referred to both the mathematical sign for infinity and to the void, a state of quiet and tranquillity out of which the new would emerge” (Armin Medosch, New Tendencies: Art at the Threshold of the Information Revolution (1961 – 1978), Cambridge 2016, p. 39).
In 1957, Heinz Mack formally founded the ZERO movement with his close friend and studio partner Otto Piene. In 1958, he made his first light reliefs and light cubes using polished aluminium – the present work is the fully evolved manifestation of these early experiments. By 1960, Mack and Piene were joined by Günther Uecker and from there formed a network of artists across Europe, exchanging ideas and working towards a common goal; a “mutual aspiration to reclaim art’s experimental and forward-looking potential in the aftermath of World War II” (Valerie Hillings, ‘Countdown to a New Beginning: The Multinational Zero Network, 1950s-60s’ in: Exh. Cat., New York, Museum of Modern Art, ZERO: Countdown to Tomorrow, 1950s-60s, 2014, p. 16). Mack’s works seemed to have had particular resonance with the Italian chapter of the ZERO movement. We might look to Enrico Castellani and Getulio Alviani, who created works using similarly radical techniques, and toyed with concepts of light and shade in the execution of their shaped canvases in a comparable manner. We are also led to think of Piero Manzoni, whose works feature an equitable lack of artistic gesture; like Mack, Manzoni’s works were a backlash against mid-century tastes which favoured expressive brushwork and painted abstraction. Both artists wanted to move past conventional notions of two-dimensional painting in order to create a new kind of art, more appropriate for their time. Lucio Fontana was also focussed upon creating a new kind of art more appropriate for the age of space exploration and science. He was one of the most important artists of the entire ZERO movement and was integral to spreading Mack and Piene’s philosophy amongst his Italian compatriot artists.
Untitled’s existence is governed by dynamism: continuing adjustments of fluctuating light and even the subtlest movements of the viewer’s perspective engender an ever-changing dance of reflection on its surface. Mack’s brilliant concept is to necessitate the involvement of the viewer and of light in order to complete the work. In fact, despite being entirely intangible and impossible to define, these dynamic forces ultimately embody the work of art itself. In synthesizing notions of art, nature, and technology into a single work, Untitled seems to distil the fundaments of the ZERO ethos. It exemplifies the manner in which this movement served as inspiration for a litany of Italy’s most important post-war and contemporary artists, and explicates the creative excitement that surrounded practitioners like Heinz Mack in the 1960s. We are reminded of his idiosyncratically enigmatic statement: “ZERO is ZERO, and there is nothing except ZERO… Just as New York is New York and Tokyo is Tokyo, ZERO is ZERO. In other words a new city has appeared on the map of art. And it is a very beautiful and lively city” (Heinz Mack cited in: Exh. Cat., Hong Kong, Ben Brown Fine Arts, Heinz Mack: Colour, light, Rhythm, 2011, p. 6).