1 SPERONE WESTWATER Heinz Mack Heinz Mack was born in 1931 in Lollar in Hesse, Germany, and he lives and works in Mönchengladbach and Ibiza. He studied painting at the Staatliche Kunstakademie in Düsseldorf from 1950 to In 1956 he received a degree in philosophy at the University of Cologne. Following his studies, Mack applied himself intensively to abstract painting, developing by the mid-1950s his first Dynamic Structures in painting, drawing, plaster, and metal reliefs. He became well known for his contributions to light and kinetic art. In 1957 he founded the ZERO group with Otto Piene and later Günther Uecker and organized the now-famous evening exhibitions at his studio in Düsseldorf. In 1966, ZERO s last group exhibition took place in Bonn. During the 1970s and 1980s Mack concentrated on creating monumental outdoor sculptures. Mack has been exhibiting internationally since Recent retrospectives have been held at the Ludwig Museum, Koblenz (2009); Museum Kunstpalast, Düsseldorf (2011); Bundeskunsthalle, Bonn (2011); ARNDT, Berlin ( ); Museum Frieder Burda, Baden Baden (2015); and Sakip Sabanci Museum, Istanbul (2016). In June 2014, Mack unveiled The Sky Over Nine Columns, an installation of 850,000 mosaic gold leaf tiles covering nine, seven-meters-high columns, installed on the island of San Giorgio Maggiore in Venice, and traveled to Istanbul ( ); Valencia (2016). The is currently installed in St. Moritz until 15 March In October 2014, the Guggenheim Museum, New York opened a large-scale historical survey of the work of the ZERO group, showcasing a diverse selection of Mack s work. A touring exhibition of ZERO artworks was also presented at the Martin- Gropius-Bau, Berlin and traveled to the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam (2015). The Sakip Sabanci Museum, Istanbul presented another exhibition of the ZERO group in Mack s works can be found in numerous public and private collections worldwide, including the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo; Centre Pompidou, Paris; Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington D.C; Los Angeles County Museum of Art; the Museum of Modern Art, New York; Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Berlin; Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam; Tate, London; and Walker Art Center, Minneapolis. Heinz Mack has had solo exhibitions at Sperone Westwater in 2009, 2011, 2014, and 2017.
2 SPERONE WESTWATER Heinz Mack Selected Press
3 SPERONE WESTWATER Light and Color at Sabancı Museum. (Hurriyet Daily News), 20 February Marking his 85th birthday and the 65th year of his career, German artist Heinz Mack opens Mack. Just Light and Color, featuring over a hundred works at Istanbul s Sakıp Sabancı Museum Istanbul s Sakıp Sabancı Museum is hosting the leading artist of German modernism, Heinz Mack, with an exhibition titled Mack. Just Light and Color, showcasing the artist s long and prolific career with over a hundred works. Realized under the curatorship of the Sakıp Sabancı Museum Director Nazan Ölçer and art historian and former Exhibitions Secretary of the Royal Academy of Arts, London, Sir Norman Rosenthal, the exhibition notably marks the 85th birthday and 60th year of Mack s career with a series of exhibitions taking place in the Far East, Europe and Turkey. Mack is notably among the founders of the mid-20th century avant-garde art network, the ZERO movement. The exhibition, encompassing the artist s formative earlier works that informed the revolutionary philosophy of the ZERO movement, brings together paintings, monumental sculptures and kinetic works produced throughout the artist s long career. Regarding light as an infinite source of life and pursuing it with unshaken determination has been both a personal approach and an influential artistic strategy for Mack.
4 SPERONE WESTWATER After spending the years of his youth amidst the cold desolation left by World War II in Germany, Mack shaped his art around light, which throughout history and geographies has been the harbinger of a new day and opportunities yet unexplored. When Mack concluded the works and activities within the ZERO framework in 1967, the artist continued to work intensively as an independent philosopher and artist. His investigative approach to his work began within the Western tradition in which he was born, but went on to draw its strength from his desire to understand traditional Eastern knowledge and its intellectual principles. Within Mack s oeuvre, in which the artist travels to regions where the natural expression of light is in its most powerful form, ranging from the North Pole to the Sahara Desert, light often becomes both the material as well as the work itself. All of us need light Speaking to Anadolu Agency, Mack said, My works and all of us need light as well as shadow. This is why my works are mingled with light. Mack said art academies were destroyed after World War II and the ZERO exhibition started in the ground floor of a collapsed art academy in Dusseldorf. We started by cleaning this wreck in a cold weather. We had depression; there was a big gap after the war in 1960s. Not only artistic but intellectual gap. We had interest in various movements such as structuralism in France, bauhaus and expressionism in Germany, and supremacism in Russia. The artists of my age worked with single color on their canvas, Mack said. He said that he had made black and white paintings from 1957 to Then I was interested in artistic monuments such as big sculptures. I started using colors again in 1991 and returned painting, he said, adding that in his art, he was impressed by the East most.
5 SPERONE WESTWATER Today, Mack is at the peak of a prolific artistic career in which he has produced works ranging from the revolutionary echoes of the ZERO movement that set out to change the world, to monumental works that straddle continents, and from kinetic sculptures to canvases that embrace all the colors discernible by the human eye. Just Light and Color will run through July 17.
6 SPERONE WESTWATER Abrams, Amah-Rose. The Light Fantastic Work of Heinz Mack. news.artnet.com (Artnet News), 7 January Painter and sculptor Heinz Mack has enjoyed a prodigiously long career. As a co-founder of the hugely influential ZERO movement, he is known for a breadth of inventive work which includes light sculptures, large-scale environmental installations, op art, kinetic art, and more. Born in Lollar, West Germany in 1931, Mack attended the Düsseldorf Academy from Three years after graduating, he left the city to study philosophy in Cologne, a qualification he needed to gain work as a secondary school teacher. Despite the creative buzz that was booming in the Rhineland at the time, this was still a bleak period in Germany s history as, following the end of the Second World War in 1945, there was massive damage to infrastructure and high levels of poverty. Heinz Mack Wing-Wing (2015) Photo: courtesy Samuelis Baumgarte Galerie Even in the library of the well-reputed Academy in Düsseldorf, there were three or four old books left: there was no information at all, Mack explained in an interview with Ocula in To give you a simple example, because I worked quite hard as a student, I received a scholarship from the state just enough money to go from Düsseldorf to Paris by train. I was so happy and so excited to see, at the Grand Pavilion, paintings by Picasso, Miró, and Matisse for the first time. When I came back a week later to my Academy in Düsseldorf, I told my friends about a very strange artist I d never seen before, Miró, and nobody, not a teacher or a student, had ever heard his name! Mack and fellow Düsseldorf graduate Otto Piene founded the ZERO Movement in ZERO, which was named to express an affinity with the Minimalist movement, was concerned with freedom, breaking from tradition, and the use of simple forms, light, and color. Together, they also published ZERO Magazine which went on to run for a decade, from Heinz Mack O. T. (1960) Photo: courtesy Beck & Eggeling Mack and Piene, joined in 1961 by Günther Uecker, hosted evening exhibitions at their studios that gave themselves a platform in which to show their work when no other opportunities existed. This allowed them to find and engage with an audience while displaying their latest often still in-progress or unrealized work. By the late 1950s Mack, started working directly in desert and arctic landscapes in an effort to explore light in natural environments. In 1959 he completed the Sahara Project, where he installed what he refers to as
7 SPERONE WESTWATER gardens in the vast sand dunes of the Sahara. These installations comprised of mirrored glass, sails, prismatic pyramids, and huge light-flowers. Mack s sculptural works used both reflective and textural surfaces to maximize the striking impact of the desert and arctic sun. Heinz Mack O.T., (1968) Photo: courtesy MDZ Art Gallery In 1964, Mack, Piene, and Uecker contributed several works, including kinetic sculptures, to documenta III under the title of ZERO Lichtraum (Hommage á Lucio Fontana). The trio quickly began to attract attention from overseas. Shortly after, Mack moved to New York and held his first solo exhibition at the Howard Wise Gallery in Many of the artists affiliated with ZERO spent time in New York where, to this day, the artistic community still holds the movement in great affection. In the Guggenheim Museum mounted ZERO: Countdown to Tomorrow, 1950s 60s, a major survey of the movement. Over time, ZERO developed into a global network of like-minded artists that included Yayoi Kusama, Yves Klein, Lucio Fontana, Piero Manzoni, and Jesús Rafael Soto, and was linked to many other overlapping artistic movements, such as Arte Povera, Nouveau Realismé, and Minimalism.
8 Heinz Mack I Like the Colour of Your Mind (2008) Photo: courtesy ARNDT SPERONE WESTWATER The main thing is that all the artists that were or have been involved in the spirit of ZERO in general are working with structures, Mack explained to Ocula. These artists are making concrete not realistic work: it s just structures and behind these structures is the idea of light, space, and movement. Throughout his career Mack received many commissions for public sculpture, including at the Jürgen-Ponto-Platz in Frankfurt, the Platz der Deutschen Einheit in Düsseldorf, and, probably the most famous, Sky Over Nine Columns (2014), consisting of nine large gold columns installed for the 2014 Architectural Biennale in Venice. Lately, however, Mack has resumed painting in color after decades of relying on a palette of mainly black and white, or a single color at a time. Viewing color as light and light as color, he creates vibrant works governed by the juxtaposition of saturated hues, focusing on blurring their boundaries to create a dazzling, jewel-like effect. Ardently Modern, Heinz Mack is still creating fresh and inspiring works. His efforts have not gone ignored, and recent groups shows focusing on the ZERO movement at the Guggenheim and Neuberger Museum of Art attest to his lasting impact on the history of 20th-century art. Hopefully it won t be too long before we also see a large-scale solo museum survey of his work he s certainly earned it.
9 SPERONE WESTWATER Masewicz, Natalia. Between the Future and the Past: Major ZERO Retrospective Opens in Berlin. blouinartinfo.com (Blouin Artinfo), 30 March Installation view ZERO The International Art Movement of the 50s and 60s, through June 8 at Martin-Gropius-Bau in Berlin. Group Zero has been gaining a lot of attention recently, thanks to the comprehensive eponymous retrospective organized by the Dusseldorf Zero foundation in cooperation with the Guggenheim Museum in New York and the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam. After opening in New York last year, it is currently on view at Martin-Gropius-Bau in Berlin a grandly scaled exhibition that reflects the international character of the Zero group with around 200 works by artists from Germany, Belgium, Holland, France, Italy, Venezuela, and Japan, among others. The original Zero, initiated in 1958 by Heinz Mack and Otto Piene, who were joined in 1961 by Günther Uecker, was a relatively short-lived endeavour that ended in The sense of ephemerality was encompassed by the group s first shows that lasted only one night each. The artists had not been given enough chance to showcase their works within other established institutions, therefore they founded their own group, which seemed like a model of a utopian society. Group Zero is not a group in the usual sense, Otto Piene stated in the article The Development the Group ZERO, there is no president, no leader, no secretary, there are no members. It is only a human relation between several artists [...].
10 SPERONE WESTWATER Heinz Mack, Otto Piene, and Günther Uecker at Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam in 1962 on the occasion of the exhibition NUL The German artists left the doors open for others such as Yves Klein, Jean Tinguely, Jef Verheyen or Lucio Fontana to exhibit with them, without imposing on them their artistic vision. This emphasis on equality in the group did however somehow translate into a uniformity in the works created by the artists: most of them are monochrome, with the dominant tones of white or silver, exploring the relationship between movement, light, space, and perception. The most impressive representation of these explorations in the Berlin Zero show are two rooms which are completely dominated by a complicated metropolis of sculptures and installations. The seventh room in the order of viewing showcases Mack s Stele ( ), vertical arrangements of glass, plexiglass, mirrors, and aluminium, with elements of sculptures rotating slowly. The title of the work refers to the commemorative monuments present in art history since Antiquity. However, the materials used by the artist, as well as the mechanical feel of the perpetually rotating components, render the works more akin to a vision of the future.
11 SPERONE WESTWATER Similar effect is achieved in room nineteen which presents a monumental collaborative work titled Lichtraum (Homage to Fontana), originally designed in 1964 to be shown at documenta III. This time, the dominating shape is a sphere, with different sources of light illuminating large revolving oval constructions, some of which were punctured by nails, with the others resembling unpolished materials such as steel, tin, iron. The constructions move slowly, to the internal rhythm of the symphony of light, which is switched on an off at varying intervals. Both rooms present a very hypnotic and serene scenery; a landscape that can perhaps be compared to the early explorations of humankind on the moon. The group Zero dreamt of a space devoid of the human mark, where the only forces that can exist are nature and technology. An example of that could be Hans Haacke s Condensation Cube, (2008 replica), a glass box with condensed water inside that gathers on the side plates. It is an art work that seems to refer to Piene s sentiment to attempt to reharmonize the relation between man and nature. Haacke s work, however, seems to emphasize human absence in this Heinz Mack, Siehst Du den Wind? Gruß an Tinguely (Do You See the Wind? Greetings to Tinguely), 1962, electric fan, refelctor, aluminium bands, 200 x 40 x 40 cm. Courtesy of ZERO Foundation Dusseldorf experiment, with the water drops forming intricate yet transient designs on the glass, completely unrelated to the endeavours of the artist. The ever-present zero at the exhibition is a metaphor for a new beginning. In the words of Piene, zero is the immeasurable zone where the old state turns into the new. It is of course easy to justify the aim of organizing this exhibition due to the impact which Zero had on the art movements to follow: minimalism, conceptual art, land art. It is far more interesting, however, to discern the real drive beneath the Zero artists s work underneath the brightness of their whites and shimmering of their silvers, there inevitably lurks a shadow of the past. Perhaps one could treat the sterility of their dehumanized spaces as a response to the horrors of the Second World War, an escapist elopement into the future. On the other hand, one might interpret their defiance of the past as a conscious break with the tradition of treating artist s brushwork as a sign of creative genius. Unlike the abstract expressionists in the 1940s in the United States, Lucio Fontana, for example, painted his canvases in a uniform manner, covering the spaces with indiscernible layers of white paint. In his Concetto spaziale, 1959, the artist leaves deep cuts in the surface of the painting. It is not the brushwork that conveys meaning in Fontana s work, but the spatial arrangement of paint, canvas and the viewer; painting thus ceases to be two-dimensional and enters the realm of sculpture.
12 SPERONE WESTWATER Otto Piene, Venus von Willendorf (Venus of Willendorf), 1965, oil and soot on canvas, 150 x 200 cm. Courtesy of Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam Overall, Zero is an impressive exhibition, reinforced by the showcased artists boldness of vision. Like the enormous black sphere that hangs from the ceiling in the atrium at the heart of the exhibition, Zero seems to be hovering somewhere between an idealized vision of the future, as it was imagined at the beginning of the second half of the Twentieth Century, and an overbearing shadow of the past. ZERO The International Art Movement of the 50s and 60s, through June 8, 2015; Martin-Gropius- Bau, Berlin, Germany.
13 SPERONE WESTWATER Jones, Caroline. ZERO. Artforum, March 2015, pp
15 SPERONE WESTWATER Walleston, Aimee. Heinz Mack. Art in America, January 2015, p. 87.
16 SPERONE WESTWATER Mack, Heinz, and Julian Elias Bronner. 500 Words. (Artforum), 5 December Left: Heinz Mack, New York, New York, 1963, aluminum on wood, 62 x 39 x 7. Right: Heinz Mack, Tele-Mack, 1968, 16-mm film transferred to DVD, color, sound, 24 minutes 35 seconds. Heinz Mack is an artist who primarily works with light and is a cofounder of the international artists network ZERO. Mack speaks here about the so-called Sahara Project, a series of installations he made in the Tunisian desert from 1962 to The project is featured in the exhibition ZERO: Countdown to Tomorrow, 1950s 60s, at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, until January 7, Mack s concurrent solo exhibition, From ZERO to Today: Heinz Mack, , also runs at New York s Sperone Westwater Gallery until December 13, When I was in New York in 1963, I was searching for new materials, hoping they would give birth to ideas. I received a tip from Nam June Paik, who told me to look at one of these appliance wholesale stores on the Bowery where I could find something for very little money. What I chanced upon there was an aluminum honeycomb material that is patented and produced by a company in California a material I had never encountered before in Germany. It was malleable, and by stretching it I realized that its structure was quite similar to structures in nature. For example, when you look at a leaf through a microscope, you notice that
17 SPERONE WESTWATER the organic matter is arranged in a way that gives stability to the entire surface. I later learned that the stable and light material I found on the Bowery was also used to fabricate airplanes, rockets, and military vessels. Many things we discover in nature are converted into industrial forms, and I find the interaction between the two striking. I grew up in the countryside, which was rich in farmers fields and surrounded by forests. The farmers created artificial surfaces on their fields by making grooves with the plow. I was impressed by these fields high, golden grain, blown by the wind so their surface mirrored the waves of the sea. I had a similar sensation later in my life while in the Sahara desert the sand dunes took on the form of an endless, radiant ocean. I began to conceptualize the Sahara Project in 1959 and went to Tunisia in I dismounted some mirrors in my hotel s bathroom there and placed them into the sand in a line so that the reflection of the sunset hit them directly. The intention of this work was to create new sensations of beauty there and to experiment with the appearance of light, which at a distance appeared like a mirage. This was documented in my 1968 film Tele-Mack and in photographs taken of the work by Thomas Hoepker in Afterward, we published the book Sculpture Safari: Photographic Interpretation of Artifacts in Nature with Rizzoli in I am mostly impressed but sometimes depressed by technology. What does it mean to be impressed by a branch of knowledge that has been used as an instrument to systematically kill people and nature? Developing and mastering technology is one of man s finest abilities it s in his constructive spirit. However, the dialectical irony is that technology is also always capable of destroying humanity. I m reminded of Goethe s poem The Sorcerer s Apprentice, which argues that as soon as you start to learn a technique, it captivates you, rules you, and autonomy is lost. You become dependent on it. It has to be a conscious decision to remain as free as possible. With reservation and intelligence, humanity can remain at a critical distance and optimize technology for the future. As told to Julian Elias Bronner
18 SPERONE WESTWATER Doran, Anne. ZERO: Countdown to Tomorrow, 1950s-60s. Time Out New York, November 2014, p. 49.
19 SPERONE WESTWATER Morgan, Robert C. The Origins and Evolution of Group ZERO. hyperallergic.com (Hyperallergic), 20 November Installation view: ZERO: Countdown to Tomorrow, 1950s 60s, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, October 10, 2014 January 7, (Photo: David Heald Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York) In addition to the name of a formidable art moment in midcentury Germany, zero is the final digit spoken before a rocket lifts off into outer space. The term in capital letters ZERO initially appeared in a publication by Otto Piene and Heinz Mack in April 1958 following a series of spontaneously organized exhibitions organized by the two artists between 1957 and There are undoubtedly many stories attributed to the founding of ZERO in post-world War II Germany, as there were with the inception of Dada during the earlier Great War that raged outside the Swiss borders from Just as the blindfolded artist Tristan Tzara discovered the word Dada, meaning rocking horse in Romanian, by pointing to the word in a Romanian/French dictionary, so it seems the discovery of ZERO transpired nearly four decades later. According to Heinz Mack, the year was Mack and his artist-friends Otto Piene and Gunther Uecker were sitting in a café with the intent of coming up with a name for their newly founded group. Suddenly Mack feigned an extraordinary interest in a book someone was reading at a nearby table, which the artist proceeded to ask if he could borrow. As Mack flipped through the pages he found the word ZERO on the final page of the index: It was the last word in the book, and the best word for their group!
20 SPERONE WESTWATER While one may argue the profound differences between artists who exhibited with Group ZERO and those connected with early Dada, both were equally prone to present high-energy events and performances, to organize single-evening exhibitions, and to publish polemical writings sympathetic to their causes. Whereas Dada was part of the original avant-garde mania during the first quarter of the twentieth century, ZERO played a key role in the avant-garde revival of the late 1950s and 1960s, referred to by many as the neo-avant-garde. In addition to Group ZERO, this would be concurrent with the Happenings, Fluxus, CoBrA, and Gutai, among other related manifestations. As for their intentions, goals, and purposes, Dada and ZERO could not be further apart. While the artists affiliated with ZERO were unanimous in their exploration of new materials or employing common materials in vital new ways, the contribution of Dada was primarily in recycling history through found materials, images, and objects, thus giving them a radical new context and appearance. While ZERO was focused on evolving a future aesthetic by equating creation with destruction, often ironically based on classical forms of time and space, Dada was more concerned with arguing against the past, specifically in their abrogation of the importance of bourgeois culture. This featured exhibition, ZERO: Countdown to Tomorrow, 1950s and 60s, now on view at the Guggenheim Museum, is the first of its kind in the United States since 1965, when a smaller version was shown at the Institute of Contemporary Art at the University of Pennsylvania. For many New Yorkers, ZERO will offer not only a first-hand look at many of the important works mounted in the alcoves on the ramp, but will also help clarify the participation of such preeminent figures as Piene, Mack, and Uecker, along with Lucio Fontana, Yves Klein, Piero Manzoni, Otto Piene, Light Ballet (Lichtballett), Left to right: Light Ballet (Light Drum), 1969, chrome, glass, and lightbulbs, height: 45.7 cm, diameter: cm, Moeller Fine Art, New York; Light Ballet (Light Satellite), 1969, chrome and lightbulbs, diameter: 38 cm, Moeller Fine Art, New York; Light Ballet, 1961, metal armature, lightbulbs, electric motor, and rubber, 178 x 155 x 80 cm, Foundation MUSEION. Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art Bolzano, Italy ( Otto Piene. Photo: David Heald The Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, New York) Jesus Rafael Soto, Yayoi Kusama, Enrico Castellani, Gerhard von Graevenitz, among others, most of whom are considered major artists throughout Europe. In addition, the mounting of ZERO offers an important hypothesis that it is still possible to design a major exhibition with a balance between similar and divergent works based on a consistent and clear understanding of the space around them. Having seen too many lesser designed exhibitions over the past season where a major artist is shown in a manner that makes the work appear less significant than it is, as with Lygia Clark; or the opposite, where an all-out, crackerjack design team gives an artist of lesser significance the appearance of an exhumed ready-made master, promoted on a grand scale. At the Guggenheim s ZERO show, one cannot easily ignore the craft in the radical Achromes of Piero Manzoni ( , especially) or the staggering ability of Gunther Uecker to control the optical rows of nails in a work such as White Bird (1964) or the delicate play of invisible motorized devices found the contemplative panels of Pol Bury (1959). Some will delight in seeing an earlier sensitive Kusama from 1960, where oil on canvas is mixed with rice blossoms, a qualitatively superior work when compared with the artist s more recent Pop-oriented paintings. While many viewers are familiar with Yves Klein s IKB
21 Illustration from ZERO 3 (July 1961), design by Heinz Mack ( Heinz Mack, photo: Heinz Mack) SPERONE WESTWATER monochrome blue paintings, some of his most precise and intricate works are found in the Fire Paintings from More than likely, these influenced the Smoke Paintings of Otto Piene two years later, which came after Piene s monochrome Stencil Paintings, completed during his important formative period in 1957/58. These paintings constitute some of the most ebullient and expansive work included in the exhibition. The constructions by Milanese artist, Nanda Vigo, who worked with varnished tin plates, are not well-known, at least in New York, but are extraordinary works, which further enhance the efficacy of Group ZERO. One would hope to see more in related forthcoming exhibitions. Perhaps the most celebrated installation work in this exhibition is Lichtraum: Hommage a Fontana, in which ZERO s three cofounders Mack, Piene, and Uecker designed a space for Documenta 3 (1964) in Kassel, Germany in which their kinetic light machines interacted together. While the project might just as well have been an homage to Moholy-Nagy s Light-Space Modulator ( ), the honor was bestowed instead on the concetto spaziale artist Lucio Fontana whose work exalted in the combined effects of both destructive and creative synergies, a principle that engaged the ZERO artists from the beginning. In line with the Guggenheim, such an approach to quality in mounting an exhibition may also be found at Sperone Westwater on the Bowery in Heinz Mack: from ZERO to Today, Given the intention of this show to present the co-founders of ZERO in a wider, broader and more recent context, in keeping with the designated role of a gallery, the selection of works including an early masterwork, Der Garten Eden (The Garden of Eden) (1966/76). The exhibition offers a more concentrated view of Mack s paintings, metal reliefs, and ready-made sculpture, quite different in concept and scale from his Great Space Arrow (1976) at Grand Erg Oriental or his towering Tunisian Light Stele (1968), among numerous other public-scale projects (many still unrealized) involving various forms of light. By focusing attention specifically on the artist s crafting of materials in traditional mediums, the show at Sperone Westwater gives a glimpse of Mack s sense of completeness, his interest in beauty and finesse. In addition to scale and concept, it is important that these qualities are understood in relation to Mack, who, despite his early desire to enter into advanced art as an open-ended exploration focused on materiality, finally emerges as a classicist as carefully concealed as that of Matisse, whose work the artist admired at the outset in his career. This further suggests the manner in which the uptown exhibition persists in presenting the inextricable connections these artists had to objects, not only as forms of representation instilled with innovative ideas, but more correctly, as objects capable of transmitting ideas that were actually intended, without losing their essence to expand outward in their carefully articulated sensory delivery. Heinz Mack: from ZERO to Today, continues at Sperone Westwater (257 Bowery, Lower East Side, Manhattan) through December 13. ZERO: Countdown to Tomorrow, 1950s and 60s continues at the Guggenheim (1071 5th Ave, Upper East Side, Manhattan) through January 7.
22 SPERONE WESTWATER Brooks, Blair Asbury. How the Zero Group Became One of Art History s Most Viral Movements. (Artspace Magazine), 5 November The Zero group in Düsseldorff Yes, I dream of a better world. Should I dream of a worse? Yes, I desire a wider world. Should I desire a narrower? Otto Piene, Paths to Paradise in ZERO 3 (July 1961) Zero is silence. Zero is the beginning. Zero is round. Zero spins. Zero is the moon. The sun is Zero. Zero is white. The desert Zero. The sky above Zero. The night. excerpt from a 1963 poem by Heinz Mack, Otto Piene, and Günther Uecker The postwar avant-garde is finally having its art historical moment. The last couple of years have brought consummate surveys of global art movements of the 1950s and 60s to museum audiences, ranging from Paul Schimmel s Destroy the Picture: Painting the Void, at MOCA to Gutai: Splendid Playground at the Guggenheim to Tokyo : A New Avant-Garde at MoMA. The moment now belongs to the so-called Zero (or ZERO) group, a loose convocation of international artists that sprang up in German in the 1950s under the leadership of Heinz Mack, Otto Piene, and Günther Uecker. In 2010, a Sotheby s sale drew fervid interest when a collection of Zero works far surpassed their estimates. Now, the Guggenheim is leading a widespread reappraisal of the artists with the group s first museum survey in the United States, the acclaimed Zero: Countdown to Tomorrow, 1950s- 60s. A complementary exhibition of work spanning Mack s career at Sperone Westwater has also generated critical excitement. As a primer on the group, here is a brief history of a movement without a manifesto.
23 SPERONE WESTWATER BEGINNINGS OF ZERO Active from , Zero was initiated in Düsseldorf by Heinz Mack and Otto Piene; Günther Uecker joined in While the three artists formed the inner circle, Piene emphasized that Zero was not a group in a definitely organized way. There is no president, no leader, no secretary; there are no members, there is only a human relationship among several artists and an artistic relationship among different individuals. Heinz Mack, Otto Piene, Günther Uecker The artists came together in their desire to move away from subjective postwar movements, like France s Art Informel and Tachisme, and instead de-emphasize the role of the artist s hand to create art that was purely about the work s materials, and world in which those materials exist. In other words: light and space. Indeed, the critic Lawrence Alloway asserted that Zero was the first artists collaboration devoted to topics of light and movement. Gutai artist Saburo Murakami creating At One Moment Opening Six Holes (1955) CONCURRENT MOVEMENTS Contemporaneous to Zero were various avant-garde movements in Europe and Asia, as well as North and South America, that found common aesthetic cause with the German movement. These included the Holland s Nul (Armando, Jan Henderikse, Jan Schoonhoven, Herman de Vries), France s Nouveaux Réalistes (Arman, Yves Klein, Daniel Spoerri), Italy s Azimuth (Piero Manzoni and Enrico Castellani), and Japan s Gutai group (Jirô Yoshihara, Shozo, Shimamoto, Kazuo, Shiraga, Atsuko Tanaka, among others); the Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama and America s George Rickey also formed individual nodes in the orbit of Zero s influence. (Nota bene: According to Guggenheim curator Valerie Hilling, Otto Piene stated that Zero should be used to denote the German group, with the capitalized ZERO standing for the larger network.) Many of these international artists participated in Zero events, and in turn included members of Zero in their respective activities. Collaboration was key. As Günther Uecker wrote in ZERO 3, Immediate experience comes only when we ourselves participate. To obtain widest participation, the production of art must cease to be limited to the individual, as it has been until now. Three artists who worked closely with Zero s inner core were Klein, Manzoni, and Lucio Fontana. A generation older than the others, Fontana served as a father figure to both the Zero group and Azimuth; he was also an early supporter of Heinz Mack s, having (unbeknownst to Mack) purchased the only work that sold in the artist s first Paris show. In addition to his artistic contributions, Klein also helped to solidify
24 SPERONE WESTWATER Düsseldorf-Paris relations, namely between Galerie Schemla (one of three then-new galleries in Düsseldorf) and equally influential Galerie Iris Cert in Paris. Piene dubbed Manzoni Zero Mercury because of the Italian artist s voracious traveling between artistic hubs. THE EVOLUTION OF ZERO Vision in Motion Motion in Vision (1959) ZERO had no simple, linear chronology. As the art historian Catherine Millet has written, Zero consisted of a series of opportunities, of encounters and friendships which gave rise to three increasingly rich issues of a magazine, to exhibitions, and to events. It was like a very long, deep wave that sent ripples right across the field of artistic creation. Without a manifesto or strict membership, the activities of ZERO encompassed a range of artistic practices and, with an ebb-and-flow frequency, intermingled with other contemporaneous artistic movements. The porousness of the Zero network was in part due to the fact that the artists created many of the exhibitions themselves, since there was no gallery system in postwar Germany to support the emerging avant-garde. As a result, Mack and Piene created their own means of promotion and display: one-evening pop-up exhibitions, the first of which was held in Piene s Düsseldorf studio on April 11, The fourth evening exhibition, held on September 26 of that year, was, according to Guggenheim curator Valerie Hillings, momentous, less for the art shown than for a meeting that followed its close at a bar called Fatty s Atelier, located across from Galerie Schemla. It was there that they decided upon the name Zero. According to Piene, From the beginning we looked upon the term not as an expression of nihilism or a Dada-like gag, but as a word indicating a zone of silence and of pure possibilities for a new beginning as at the count-down when rockets take off zero if the incommensurable zone in which the old state turns into the new.
25 SPERONE WESTWATER For the seventh evening exhibition, Mack and Piene published the first of the three ZERO magazinecatalogues. Titled The Red Painting, ZERO 1 (April 1958) contained artists writings on color, monochrome painting, and color as light articulation. ZERO 2 (October 1958), titled Vibration, was published on the occasion of the eighth evening exhibition and was focused on the relationship between nature/man/technology. ZERO 3 (July 5, 1961), titled Dynamo, was then published on the occasion of the exhibition Edition, Exposition, Demonstration at Galerie Schemla. Toward the end of the 50s, Zero began to receive institutional attention. In 1959, Vision in Motion Motion in Vision, a show sometimes called the first large Zero exhibition, was help in Antwerp. Artists names were listed on the floor, below the work an installation conceit repeated with dramatic aplomb in the beginning of the Guggenheim exhibition. Then, in 1964, Mack, Piene, and Uecker collaborated on an installation for documenta 3, Lichtraum (Hommage à Fontana) [Light Room (Homage to Fontana)], which includes automated sculptural objects of varying heights, materials, and textures that are equipped with timers so they would turn on, move, and light up in a choreographed display. At one point, a projection of a Fontana painting containing a single, vaginal slash appears on one wall. The effect, experienced in the Guggenheim show, is startling. USE OF COLOR ZERO was unusual among postwar avant-garde movements in that it had neither a manifesto nor a definite national association, since the artists of the ZERO network did, despite their identification with other movements, hold ideological beliefs consistent with those of Zero. Key areas of artistic exploration included color (almost always monochrome), light, motion, space, and seriality. For Zero, the use of monochrome served multiple purposes: it was a separation from the expressionistic and abstract works of Art Informel and other earlier postwar movements. Color was also part of the exploration of light, since color is a perception of light. The use of a single color emphasized a work s surface as well as its highlights and shadows. Various artists favored different colors for various reasons. In a 1959 lecture at the Sorbonne, The Evolution of Art towards the Immaterial, Klein explained that blue has no dimensions, it is A Yves Klein sponge painting beyond dimensions, whereas the other colors are not. They are prepsychological expanses, red, for example, presupposing a site radiating heat. All colors arouse specific associative ideas, psychologically material or tangible, while blue suggests at most the sea and sky, and they, after all, are in actual, visible nature what is most abstract. (Klein, famous for his blue works, also made pieces in red monochrome, and, taking the idea of heat further, even employed fire directly on canvas; Otto Piene painted with smoke, while Manzoni used soot.) In contrast to Klein s love of blue, Manzo made a case for white. My intention is to present a completely white surface (or better still, an absolutely colorless or neutral one) beyond all pictorial phenomena, all intervention aligned to the sense of the surface. A white surface which is neither a polar landscape, nor an evocative or beautiful subject, nor even a sensation, a symbol or anything else: but a white surface which is nothing other than a colorless surface, or even a surface which quite simply is.
26 SPERONE WESTWATER OTHER THEMES One of Otto Piene s Light Ballet works, installed in the Guggenheim In addition to its relationship to color, light itself was an important material for many Zero artists. Mack began working with light in the late 50s and, in , created his first Licht-Reliefs (light reliefs), Lichtkuben (light cubes), and Lichtstelen (light pillars). Piene, meanwhile, had served in the German antiaircraft unit when he was 15 years old, and the Guggenheim asserts a direct link between his interest in light (particularly in his Light Ballet (Lichtballett) works) and his military experiences of the night sky being lit up by the intensive aerial campaign during World War II. Piene s ballets are encompassing works, playing successfully with the visual delicacy and impact of the cosmos. Seriality was also a preoccupation of the Zero artists, who used it as a way of organizing space, while hinting at the potential of limitlessness. This theme took many forms: Uecker s nail-covered canvases and objects (often painted white); Schoonhoven s gridded reliefs; Henk Peeter s grid of feathers; Mack s Lamella-Reliefs of slashed aluminum; even Jan Henderikse s Bottle Wall (Flaschenwand) from At times, seriality instilled a sense of movement, vibration, or kinetic energy within a work as with the case of Piene s Rasterbilder (stencil paintings) and Mack s Dynamic Structures. Movement itself was at times at the forefront, notably in the works of Swiss artist Jean Tinguely.
27 SPERONE WESTWATER ZERO IN AMERICA Zero infiltrated the United States in the mid- 60s, after Piene moved to Philadelphia in 1964 and New York the following year. In 1965, the Philadelphia Institute of Contemporary Art held the show Group ZERO. That same year, Howard Wise Gallery in New York showed works by Mack, Piene, and Uecker. John Canaday s review of the show in the New York Times spoke to the strength of the work ( No theorizing is needed to back up the impact of these inventions ) as well as the clang of the ZERO network at large: the attachments of the group, whose name indicates a zone of silence and of pure possibilities for a new beginning include some of Heinz Mack at New York s Howard Wise Gallery in 1966 the noisiest artists who seem to me to be most in need of cleaning up, with more joining every day. If this is a bandwagon, we may look forward to its transformation into a sinking ship from sheer overweight, but I would place a bet that Mr. Uecker and Mr. Mack will manage to stay afloat. In his review, the artist-critic Donald Judd relayed that Since the United States is relatively inattentive to new European developments, this is the first Zero exhibition here. He pronounced Mack, Piene, and Uecker all able and convincing. Coming from Judd, that s a compliment. TODAY AND TOMORROW The Zero artists continued to work independently after the group s actively collaborative period ended in Sperone Westwater s exhibition Heinz Mack: From Zero to Today (through December 13, 2014) offers a look into the last surviving Zero founder s work beyond the movement, with most of the pieces drawn from the artist s personal collection. Recent visitors to Venice will also have seen Mack s newest installation, The Sky Over Nine Columns, comprised of nine gold-mosaic columns, each standing 26 feet tall. It work continues Mack s career-long examination of light and its environment. Heinz Mack s The Sky Over Nine Columns in Venice Now, under the leadership of the ZERO Foundation, a global series of shows will continue the public resurgence set in motion at the Guggenheim. Upcoming shows organized by the foundation will be at Berlin s Martin-Gropius-Bau (March 21-June 8, 2015) and Amsterdam s Stedelijk Museum (July 4-November 8, 2015), at once extending the movement s legacy and exemplifying the network s international footprint.
28 SPERONE WESTWATER Mack, Heinz, and Brian Boucher. Backstory: The Man Who Fell to Earth. Art in America, November 2014, p. 63.
29 SPERONE WESTWATER Halle, Howard, ed. Sperone Westwater, Heinz Mack: From ZERO to Today, Time Out New York, October 2014, p. 34.
30 SPERONE WESTWATER Less than ZERO. DuJour, Fall 2014, p. 220.
34 SPERONE WESTWATER Forbes, Alexander. Berlin Art Brief: Heinz Mack on his Survey Exhibition at ARNDT in Berlin, the Zero Group, and Overley Competitive Young Artists. blogs.artinfo.com (Blouin ARTINFO), 18 June Despite being one of the most significant German painters and sculptors of the last century, Heinz Mack remains humble about his reception, laughing that he thinks New York forgot he existed until his show at Sperone Westwater last year. He will have an extensive retrospective at the Guggenheim next year along with the other Zero Group artists. In Berlin, until the end of February, one can see might be a small preview of that exhibition at ARNDT. Works spanning from his earliest exhibitions in the late 50s through this year, all straight from Mack s studio and storehouses fill the entire gallery space. Alexander Forbes spoke to Mack while installation was concluding about that exhibition, the chance spiritual congregation that was the Zero years, and his take on the contemporary art world. Here, at ARNDT, you re exhibiting works that are somehow focused around your experience of Berlin, yet most of the works are from either the 60s or the past ten years. Is that because of specific points within your engagement with Berlin itself or were there other factors at work? I didn t decide which specific works would be shown here. I left it completely up to Mr. Arndt. I brought him to my storage rooms and let him pick out exactly what he wanted to have. Some pieces are of great importance with regard to historical meaning, so I told him that we can either sell them to a well known museum, or they are just on loan for the duration of the show. He has to give them back.
35 So collectors can t buy whatsoever? SPERONE WESTWATER No. Well, very few of the works could be: the newer works on paper, for example. But the very old pieces from 58, 59, 60, we really have to be careful. Now, I m in a bad situation because a lot of collectors worldwide want to get my old pieces. Now, more and more, the concentration of purchases is happening in fairs and auctions. One of the old pieces was just sold at Frieze in London and another at FIAC in Paris. Another is in the next Christie s auction. They become more and more rare and also more difficult to control who is purchasing them. In London, two collectors got into a fight over the works. A woman began yelling at the man in front of her who had taken both pieces in the booth. It s also funny when you think of the many years that no on paid attention. The Zero group is becoming something of a trend again. With these older works, they re all coming from your personal collection? What you see here are my possessions. I m not a collector of my own work, but we have to manage two big storehouses full of material that I will manage as long as I am alive. It s also important to me that the meaning of my life as an artist does not only depend on those ten years of the Zero group. It went on, and I am still very productive these days. There were many like Fontana or especially Castellani who had one idea and just stuck with it their entire life. In my case, I ve tried 500 ideas. It is wonderful in some ways but dangerous in that it is hard for some people to understand if one of the paintings goes together with works from a half century ago. Right, people want to create a kind of narrative throughout the work and that sometimes doesn t exist. And this is the exact problem with a show like what we have here. Matthias picked out what he wanted to have but you cannot call it a retrospective. It is just a mixture of different times. Sometimes I am afraid of it because there is a danger that people become irritated by the mixture. Maybe it s easier if there is a show of paintings I ve done in the last years. Well also with Yves Klein or Fontana, they were affiliated with Zero, but not nearly to the extent to which you and Piene and Uecker were and continue to be. Is that a struggle, to get outside of this singular identity that people want to pull you back into, or have you also never really left it in some sense? It was a time of progress, a time of development, a time of experiments, a time of insecurity. We had to make our own place within art. We were completely alone. That was one of the reasons why artists stuck together at that time. Nowadays everybody does his own thing, but we had a phenomenon where at the same time, in different places in the world: in Paris, in Milan, in Rome, in Berlin, in London, artists developed their own ideas and were surprised to see that there were similarities. It was really a miracle. And, we all started trying to help each other. I started in Dusseldorf helping Yves Klein to get his first show. He was very grateful, so he got me my very first show in Paris with Iris Clert because Yves Klein and Tinguely had told Iris Clert about my work. It was a tiny exhibition in 58 and we were all having them in those years. I met Fontana two or three years later at his studio and he had purchased the only work of mine that had been sold in Paris. It was a spiritual meeting that had all these layers, which we only uncovered later. Another short story might help illustrate it: Manzoni came over to Dusseldorf in a really small car, a Fiat 500. He used to sleep in my bed in my house. At breakfast one morning he told me that he didn t have any more money for gasoline and didn t know how to get back to Milan. I didn t have any money either. But I called the director of the museum in Krefeld and asked him to take a look at the little paintings that Manzoni
36 SPERONE WESTWATER happened to have with him. He bought two small paintings for what would probably be 150 euros each. Manzoni came back and he kissed me and said that I could have the third one he had with him. Nowadays, you need a bit more than 150 to get one. And this kind of common spirit and group thinking doesn t exist any more. Or maybe even if you have a group of artists it s more competitive. Yes, exactly. It s all organized with an economic strategy behind it. We never had money so we didn t think about it. It wasn t just the objects that we created either. It was really creating a soul that they could inhabit and that we could inhabit as well. Maybe it was unconscious, but there was a big manifestation of humanism in all that we were doing but completely outside of religion as well. There was no mythology involved it in; it was free of expressionism as well. Now, you re making more of these colorful paintings, however? I stopped painting for more than 20 years because I thought that painting on a canvas was traditional and over. Instead I worked with light and new materials. All throughout those years I made works on paper as a kind of diary. But in 1991 I just had this idea come to me that perhaps painting was not over. I started again with canvases and in very large formats. At Arndt, I think the largest one is two meters square, but many of them are three by five meters, really large. In all of them, I try to give a real intensity to the color, to make it as clear as possible, as clean as possible, and as pure as possible. How does that function in comparison to the other works both the sculptures and the more monochrome resin (Kunstharz) paintings? There is a similar intension or interest in making the materials immaterial. Color is a material, light is a material, and metal is a material. Whatever I make is independent of those substances, because I try to overcome, to immaterialize the material. If you look back to a Rembrant, you aren t interested in seeing oil, you want to see the Rembrant. So regardless of their formal existence and your many different ideas over the years, there have always been certain key elements that have remained? All my pieces depend on structures. When you look back on the history of art, beginning with Giotto, nearly 700 years of art in Europe was based on composition and on three-dimensional perspective. All the artists who worked with Zero were working in structures. Monochrome painting is a structure, not a composition. It was really, very new, and it is part of every work I have ever done. There are some people who say that it is too abstract, that it doesn t correspond to life itself. But I hope not because I have spent my entire life on my art, and if it doesn t make any sense, then my life is completely in vain.
37 SPERONE WESTWATER w w w. s p e r o n e w e s t w a t e r. c o m Gold, Sarah, and Karlyn de Jongh. A Conversation with Heinz Mack: Seeing The Light. Sculpture, November 2013, pp
45 SPERONE WESTWATER Jocks, Heinz-Norbert. Le groupe Zero. Artpress, no. 88, April 2012, pp
53 SPERONE WESTWATER Halkes, Peter. nul = 0. Dutch avant-garde in an international context, Border Crossings, no. 120, December 2011, pp
55 SPERONE WESTWATER Weintraub, Max. Heinz Mack. ARTnews, April 2011, p. 114.
56 SPERONE WESTWATER Gladstone, Valerie. Heinz Mack: Early Metal Reliefs City Arts, vol. 2, no. 2, 26 January February 2011, p. 13.
57 SPERONE WESTWATER Guttmann, Katja, ed. Heinz Mack: Early Metal Reliefs germanyinnyc.org (Germany in NYC), 4 February 2011.
58 SPERONE WESTWATER Robinson, Walter. Big Mack Attack. (Artnet Magazine), 7 January Heinz Mack, the handsome white-haired master of ineffable light and space, had an epiphany back in 1959, when he saw his first mirages in the North African desert. "I felt convinced that my work could be transformed into immaterial apparitions," he said. "That these manmade artifacts could be changed totally into instruments of light and nature." Heinz Mack with some of his sculptures in the 1950s, from Mackazine vol. 2, published by Sperone Westwater "Heinz Mack: Early Metal Reliefs ," installation view, at Sperone Westwater "Heinz Mack: Early Metal Reliefs ," installation view, at Sperone Westwater And so they have, as working with silvery metal and its elusive reflections, sometimes sent skyward in dramatic columns, Mack helped transform post-war European art (along with his colleagues Yves Klein, Lucio Fontana, Otto Piene, Jean Tinguely and Günther Uecker, among others) into something distinctly of its time. Incredibly, though Mack s work is represented in more than 130 museums around the globe, and though his 42-meter-high monumental sculpture in Stuttgart is the tallest pillar in Europe, he remains something of a mystery in the U.S. The current exhibition at Sperone Westwater -- largely featuring classic works from , which means they re about 50 years old - - is arguably his first New York gallery show since his debut at Howard Wise Gallery on 57th Street back in The works look completely new; they don t seem to age, an anomaly even in the machine era. "I hate patina," Mack said. This time capsule of a show contains a notable portion of revolution, with the artist s eye turned not toward nature or Pop media but instead on the metallic surfaces of modern industry. Whether brash and sturdy like stainless steel or as delicate as foil honeycombs, Mack s sculptures and wall works are a kind of Arte Povera that draws its magic from a technological alchemy of hard surfaces and sharp edges. Several things in the show are kinetic, including a spinning aluminum disc and a forest of rotating brass axles (both dating to 1960), which dissolve their own form, and our experience of it, into a dazzle that can barely be seen in person, much less via photography. One alcove contains three gallery-sized stele that hint at the monumental spires and endless columns that are signature works in Europe for Mack, who met Brancusi as a young man. In the 1970s New Yorkers
59 SPERONE WESTWATER came close to having just such a Peace Pillar at the U.N., soaring 35 floors tall, as a gift from Germany in thanks for the Marshall Plan. David Rockefeller, who provided the U.N. with its land, favored the project; Wallace K. Harrison, the architect, wanted it; Helmut Schmidt, the German chancellor, was in favor. But the scheme fell through all the same, when the German foreign affairs ministry opposed it on budgetary grounds. Heinz Mack, Lamellen-Relief, 1967/68, aluminum, Plexiglas, wood, stainless steel, ca. 49 x 40 x 4 in. Mack, who turns 80 this year, has a busy time ahead of him. In addition to the New York show, an expansive survey of his work is about to open in Bonn, and plans are afoot for a big traveling exhibition of the ZERO group (possible partners include the Guggenheim Museum, the Neue Nationalgalerie and the Stedelijk). Mack is especially happy about having his earthworks -- he made several experimental interventions in the Sahara and the Arctic, beginning in represented in a big "Land Art" show scheduled to open in Los Angeles in 2012 or And Dumont Verlag is publishing a huge, 500-page book on his work, with pictures that are not to be believed. Heinz Mack, box of Light Spirals, 1966, in "Heinz Mack: Early Metal Reliefs " at Sperone Westwater In the meantime, Sperone Westwater has published the substantial second number of Mack s Mackazin, featuring a wealth of black-and-white photos of his works. Mackazin number one came out in 1967 on the occasion of the first ZERO exhibition in New York. "Heinz Mack: Early Metal Reliefs ," Jan. 7-Feb. 19, 2011, at Sperone Westwater, 257 Bowery, New York, N.Y Three stele by Heinz Mack, from left: Karo-Stele (1968), Stele mit 11 Flügeln (1964/1997), and Silberlicht-Stele (1964) Heinz Mack, Kleiner Stelenwald, 1960 (during installation) Heinz Mack s rendering of his peace pillar at the U.N. in New York, from Mackazine vol. 2, published by Sperone Westwater
60 SPERONE WESTWATER w w w. s p e r o n e w e s t w a t e r. c o m ZERO: Property from the Sammlung Lenz Schönberg. Auction catalogue. London: Sotheby s, 2010, pp
72 SPERONE WESTWATER Obrist, Hans Ulrich In Heinz Mack/Lucio Fontana. Exhibition catalogue. London: Ben Brown Fine Arts, 2010, pp
74 SPERONE WESTWATER Jones, Caroline A. Zero in New York. Artforum, December 2009, pp
78 SPERONE WESTWATER Birnbaum, Daniel. Best of Artforum, December 2009, p. 164.
79 SPERONE WESTWATER Pincus-Witten, Robert. ZERO in New York, Artforum, February 2009, p. 187.
80 SPERONE WESTWATER Maine, Stephen. ZERO & Friends. Art in America, June/July 2009, pp
90 SPERONE WESTWATER Walleston, Aimee. Now Showing Zero Rising. tmagazine.blogs.nytimes.com (T Magazine), 5 December The world of art history is a place where art manifestos go to die, and it s also a place where important movements can become obscured by louder, more lauded voices. The Zero Group may be one of the more unjustly overlooked avant-garde forces of the last century, though that neglect should soon right itself. One need only step into the first room of Sperone Westwater s catacomb-like retrospective, Zero in New York, to bask in the timeless good graces of simple, revelatory art. In 1957, Heinz Mack and Otto Piene founded the Zero Group in Düsseldorf. Many of the artists who joined the group Yves Klein and Piero Manzoni being two of the more famous members were accomplices of better-known movements (in Klein s case, Nouveau Réalisme); this show allows viewers to look back on their art without the baggage of their later associations. With works from more than 20 artists, the curator David Leiber, director of Sperone Westwater, and Mattijs Visser, founding director of the Zero Foundation, had an enviable embarrassment of riches. Many of the pieces here reflect the esprit du temps of postwar Europe, and a feeling of quiet remorse is eloquently articulated in Günther Uecker s Wiesse Mühle (1964), a mechanized sculpture consisting of two white, nail-covered wheels (literally, a white mill ) that rotate forever in the same small circle. Other works are poems of the quotidian, such as Lucio Fontana s Concetto spaziale (1958), a large white sheet of paper with a series of rips. Christian Megert s Mirror Piece With Three Cuts (1963) feels like a Bauhaus reinterpretation of Fontana s paper work, with three elegant slices disturbing a perfect mirror. Many of the paintings, including Jef Verheyen s oil-on-canvas Monochrome Bleu (1962), underscore the group s interest in the kineticism of light and purification of color. One room contains a series of monochrome and fire paintings by Klein, the master of transcendental optical form. Inside, a small board saturated with the artist s International Klein Blue acts as the exhibition s wisest child, communicating an idea of transcendence with one mesmerizing pigment. Zero in New York will be on view at Sperone Westwater until December 20. Otto Piene working in his studio (Maren Heyne)
91 SPERONE WESTWATER Balla, Bryan. Zero in NY at Sperone Westwater Gallery. (Artcritical), 4 December Heinz Mack Folium Argentum Etched/engraved aluminum sheet, 39-1/2 x 51-1/2 inches. All images Courtesy Sperone Westwater Zero, an Italian group started by Heinz Mack and Otto Piene and active between 1957 and 1966, included artists from France, Italy, Germany, Belgium, and Switzerland. These people worked in deliberate contrast to the prevailing post-war expressionism with its claim to individuality and personal discovery by using modest, minimal, and often non-traditional art materials to artists from their artwork. Working outside the gallery system, these artists made single-evening exhibitions, often in their own studios, issuing manifestos with these events. While some artists involved with Zero, like Lucio Fontana, are well recognized in America, this is the first survey of the lesser-known group in the States. The gallery visitor is greeted with silence. Many of the works recede, rather than thrust forward. One reason for this is a marked lack of color, with a predominance of dreary grays, deep blacks, ashen browns. Now and again, a saturated red or yellow will flash and spark. Some of the rooms here are hung salon-style,
92 SPERONE WESTWATER creating a smart rhythm echoing that of the works. In place of labels, artist s names are lightly handwritten in graphite on the walls next to their art, a choice that reflects the group s lack of preciousness. Throughout this exhibition there is an emphasis on materials. From Arman s piling up of ready-made objects in Accumulation Lampes Fiat Lux (1960) to Yves Klein s burnt paper on wood in Fire Painting (1961), attention seems focused on distinct formal textures. Weathered and soiled surfaces tend to look damaged,burned, scarred, trampled. As the Cubists and Dadaists before them, the Zero artists wanted to incorporate materials from everyday life in an attempt to collapse the boundaries between art and life. Rather than present themselves as alienated from society as many of the American Abstract Expressionists tended to, through stubborn avoidance of technology and escape into interiority, Zero artists embraced technology and nature alike. Otto Piene Light Ballet on Wheels Aluminum drum, 4 wheels, glass, flat black paint, 16-½ x 30 inches in diameter
93 SPERONE WESTWATER The exhibition mostly consists of two-dimensional wall works that take on the appearance of paintings, but are often not paintings in a conventional sense. Piero Manzoni s Achrome ( ), for instance, is a white horizontal surface of polyester soaked in cobalt chloride, while Hienz Mack s Folium Argentum (1968) is an etched aluminum panel. Other Zero artists used materials such assand, plastic, mirror, fire, electric light, and smoke. Otto Piene s Light Ballet on Wheels (1965) is a small, black drum on wheels that projects various shapes of moving light onto the walls and ceiling. It is an investigation of the ephemeral, of the fleeting glimpse. The neutral, plain-looking drum can adapt to any situation, ready to affect a new space with it s outpour of light, yet also ready to submit to it s own lack of control. If a space isn t dark enough, Light Ballet on Wheels surrenders itself to the role of static sculpture. Another way the Zero artists were counter-expressionist was in their adoption of delicate, minimal forms, often focusing on that staple of modernism, the grid. A 1964 work by Jan Schoonhoven of a grid made with wood, cardboard, and papier maché more closely resembles a metal street grate than a Mondrian painting. However, touch does remain vital to these artists. Throughout the exhibition there is a clear need for a physical engagement with the work. An example being Lucio Fontana s torn paper on canvas, Concetto Spaziale (1958). Here, the jagged holes cut into the paper aren t to be seen as violent, but as another mode of mark marking, as the ultimate disturbance of the picture plane. The Zero group was interested in basics, which can be seen in the logical and fundamental way they organized space. As well as the grid, these artists often used circles, triangles, and diamond forms to order compositions. There is an elegant simplicity and economy that ties all the work together. It is not difficult to locate affinities between the Zero group and the proceeding Italian movement Arte Povera and, also, current artists such as Sergej Jensen and Stefan Muller. Beginning in the late sixties, Arte Povera, which Fontana and Manzoni were also part of, shared Zero s interest in using inexpensive and often found materials, in hope of establishing a more democratic form of art making. Sergej Jensen and Stefan Muller incorporate into their paintings different types of fabrics that are stained with chemicals or in other ways weather-worn. Particularly, Jensen s money paintings find their precedent in Jan Henderiske s Centenrelief (1966) and Common Cents (1967). Both paintings feature coins attached to stretched fabric that acknowledge their commodity status from the get-go. These are ways to make freak paintings, or paintings without paint, that curiously come across as mundane. This is where the strength of the Zero artists lies, in their ability to expand the parameters of art, particularily painting, in a subtle way. This is not the drawing of a moustache on the Mona Lisa, this is the shift that occurs behind your back, in silence, without you even noticing.
94 SPERONE WESTWATER Mack, Joshua. ZERO in New York. Time Out New York, 4-10 December 2008, p. 65.
95 SPERONE WESTWATER Johnson, Ken. SoHo: Provocations, Reflections and Abstractions. The New York Times, 14 November 2008, pp. C28, C31.
97 SPERONE WESTWATER Romain, Lothar. Mack, The Bauhaus, De Stijl, and the Concrete Artists. In Mack-Zero! Vol. 2. Exhibition catalogue. Düsseldorf: Beck & Eggeling, 2008, pp
105 SPERONE WESTWATER w w w. s p e r o n e w e s t w a t e r. c o m Honisch, Dieter. In Mack: Sculptures Düsseldorf: Econ Verlag, 1987, pp
125 SPERONE WESTWATER From a New York Times Interview with Heinz Mack, In Mack: Sculptures Düsseldorf: Econ Verlag, 1987, p. 32.
126 SPERONE WESTWATER Judd, Donald. Mack, Piene, Uecker. Complete Writings Halifax: The Press of the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, 1975, pp [Originally published in Arts Magazine, January 1965.]
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