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three essays Petri Leijdekkers

Countdown to ZERO and Beyond Antoon Melissen

Defying isms in Art

nul = 0 and the New Artistic Conception

Johan Pas

Cradles of Art

Artist’s Magazines of the European Neo-Avant-garde1958-1965

contents Tijs Visser

The Potential of Null 3 Petri Leijdekkers

Countdown to ZERO and Beyond 5 Antoon Melissen

Defying isms in Art 13

nul = 0 and the New Artistic Conception Johan Pas

Cradles of Art 21

Artist’s Magazines of the European Neo-Avant-garde1958-1965 about the authors 28 colophon 29



The Potential of Null Tijs Visser The Romans weren’t acquainted with it at all, the Babylonians didn’t know what to do with it, and for the Indians null was equal to void. The Arabs only used null for the purposes of trading. A new generation of artists in Germany and the Netherlands recognised the true potential: zero or null, which is nothing alone, but can help others in size. From 1958 to 1961, Heinz Mack and Otto Piene published three sumptious ZERO magazines from Düsseldorf; a small edition but in several languages. At which point Henk Peeters in Arnhem, together with Armando and herman de vries, launched a series of Nul publications. Thus resulting, in a short space of time with the help of the publications, in an international network of like-minded artists from Germany, the Netherlands, Italy, France, Belgium, Switzerland, South America and Japan. Half a century later the issues, also including the two nul = 0 magazines by Henk Peeters and herman de vries, are already collectors items; the Nul exhibitions in the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam are part of art history; the network of the international artist movement is presently being explored in many countries and artist foundations like those of ZERO, Klein, Soto, Tinguely and Manzoni have been established. However, for today’s generation of artists, ZERO is increasingly becoming a movement packed with inspirational ideas. Its relevance remains profound, which is illustrated by the numerous ZERO exhibitions in recent years and the ZERO retrospective organised by the Guggenheim in New York. And so, a much wider audience is now rediscovering ZERO or Nul as the largest international post-war artist movement. The ZERO foundation viewed it as one of their main tasks: together with the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam they would bring the Guggenheim exhibition to Europe and publish an extensive catalogue. As the artist magazines were an important means of communication, the ZERO foundation decided last year to reissue the three ZERO magazines, and this year to reissue the first two of the four Nul publications – this, in close collaboration with the ycca foundation. Sixty years after the end of the war, both the exhibitions as well as various publications provide a detailed picture of the complexity of the international movement, with Henk Peeters and herman de vries among others as tireless ambassadors of ZERO. The fact that several ambassadors are still alive and well, creating, publishing, organising and also represented at Biennales, shows that ZERO hasn’t yet to become history. So, as the null is able to make other numbers larger, ZERO likewise, is nothing without its support: the research is generously supported by the city of Düsseldorf. Our thanks go to Heinz Mack, Otto Piene and Günther Uecker, who have donated important archives and works to the ZERO foundation. A special thanks also to Henk and Truus Peeters, who have supported me from the outset of establishing the ZERO foundation; Peeters’ archive of correspondence, catalogues and photographs is on permanent loan to the ZERO foundation, and is available to researchers around the world. You, the artists, are and were the visionaries we need; who knew even then, that there’s more than null upon this round earth.

The Potential of Null


Countdown to ZERO and Beyond ‘We are undertaking the publication of a journal and are beginning to discuss the whys and wherefores. In view of the fact that we are preparing to reduce everything to nothing, we have decided to call the journal Zero. Later on we too will go beyond zero.’ — Kazimir Malevich in 19151 Petri Leijdekkers Before you lies the first issue of yccahier, an edition by the ycca foundation. This first issue includes two reprints of the magazine nul = 0 which was published in Arnhem in 1962 and 1963 by Henk Peeters in collaboration with Armando and herman de vries. Four issues appeared in total; the last two of which, edited solely by herman de vries, will be published as reprints end of 2014 (yccahier 2). Nul = 0 was a publication by the Dutch Nul Group. We are republishing them in light of the many Nul/ZERO retrospectives currently taking place, place in Europe and around the world; New York (ZERO: Count Down to Tomorrow 1950s-60s in the Guggenheim Museum NY, 10th Oct 2014 – 7th Jan 2015); Berlin (Zero, Martin Gropius Bau, opening, 20th of March 2015); Amsterdam (Zero, Stedelijk Museum, 4th June – 1st Nov. 2015). These yccahiers are produced in close collaboration with the ZERO foundation in Düsseldorf, the Henk Peeters estate in Hall (the Netherlands) and herman de vries in Eschenau (Germany). ycca is established in 2011, in response to the drastic cultural spending cuts imposed by the then government. The foundation stands for the promotion of visual art that is daring, experimental, investigative like science, and society-focused. Meeting these criteria in the 1960s were many movements belonging to the so-called New Tendencies; such as ZERO, Nouveau Réalisme, Gruppo T and N, GRAV (Groupe de Recherche d’Art Visuel), and the Dutch Nul Group which emerged in the 1950s. In their spread across Europe, they enabled minimal art, land art, fluxus and conceptual art to become possible. For the artists involved, art had the sole purpose of being an intermediary between man and the world. In addition to the two and three dimensional images, reliefs, installations, and the machines with moving light, with which they showed their ideas in exhibitions and events, these artists worked on magazines, simple in format and containing manifestos and proclamations to spread their views and generate discourse.2 For they had something to say. Something that, despite its socialist character, touched society profoundly, because it directly opposed the ingrained feeling that art was the bearer of deeper desires and feelings. Reality alone applied to this new art; literally and mercilessly, without any pretension. 1 K. Malevich, letter to M. Matiushin, 27th May 1915, quoted in W.A.L.Beeren, J.M.Joosten (ed) Malevich 1878-1935, Amsterdam, 1988-89. 2 ZERO, Heinz Mack, Otto Piene and Gunther Uecker (ed), in 1958 issue 1 (together with Yves Klein) and issue 2, in 1961 issue 3 (last issue); Azimut, Milan, Enrico Castellani and Piero Manzoni (ed), nul = 0, Arnhem, in 1962 issue 1, 1963 issues 2 and 3, 1964 issue 4. See the essays by Antoon Melissen and Johan Pas.

Countdown to ZERO and Beyond


Defying isms in Art

nul = 0 and the New Artistic Conception ‘Zero, ce n’est pas une base de départ, mais une conception de l’existence’ — herman de vries1 Antoon Melissen A week of ‘international demonstrations’ was how Henk Peeters envisaged the exhibition Nul at the Amsterdam Stedelijk Museum in March 1962, the first internationally oriented Zero exhibition within the walls of a prominent museum.2 ‘Together we want to perform a light ballet by Otto Piene,’ writes Peeters in a letter to director Willem Sandberg, ‘to play Yves Klein’s monochrome music, have [Günther] Uecker shooting arrows, [Piero] Manzoni handing out eggs, etc.’ 3 The exhibition presented work by 24 artists from nine countries with, according to the invitation for the press preview, ‘naturally the latest developments in visual art, whereby the painterly surface has been abandoned; experiments in the field of light projection, vapor, reflection and other means of spatial design will be shown.’ 4 It was intended to be a pre-eminently public event – and so it was, as demonstrated by the 13,000 visitors in just sixteen days, attracted to a large degree by the tendentious reporting in the Dutch press. ‘Museum as dumping ground for bankrupt tin can factory,’ read the headline in de Volkskrant.5 The Algemeen Dagblad, despite the prickly undertone, appeared to be better informed: ‘(…) Fontana is the prophet and he has many spiritual sons. They talk a lot, they write a lot and in between they make, shall we say: works of art.’6 In the months leading up to the opening of Nul at the Amsterdam Stedelijk Museum, the tone was set by a concerted publicity offensive. The Dutch Nul artists Armando (1929), Jan Henderikse (1937), Henk Peeters (1925-2013), Jan Schoonhoven (1914-1994) and herman de vries (1931), who briefly exhibited in the context of Nul, went public through a carefully orchestrated discourse of public talks, guest lectures, artists’ texts, manifestoes, pamphlets – and their own magazine, nul = 0.7 The creation of a fertile breeding-ground for their activities stemmed from a lack of interest from the official circuit of galleries and museums, but it nonetheless illustrates the altered role of the artist: no longer working in the seclusion of the studio, but actively and provocatively contributing to a new artistic conception, as author, marketeer and participant in public life. The first issue of the magazine nul = 0 was edited by Armando, Henk Peeters and herman de vries and published in French and German in November 1961. Another three issues would follow; number two in 1963 without Armando as editor, and numbers three and four in 1963-1964, under the slightly altered title revue nul = 0, with herman de vries as the sole editor.8 This propensity of artists such as Armando and Peeters to ‘write a lot,’ as the Algemeen Dagblad rather ironically remarked about those participating in the exhibition Nul in March 1962, had indeed not gone unnoticed. In 1957 Armando attracted attention with his Bloeddorst bij de groeven (Bloodlust at the graveside), a text in which he condemns the narrow-minded artistic climate of the Netherlands in no uncertain terms.9 Two years later, Henk Peeters Defying isms in Art. nul = 0 and the New Artistic Conception


Cradles of Art

Artist’s Magazines of the European Neo-Avant-garde 1958-1965 1

Johan Pas ‘The cradle of art:’ this is how the Antwerp poet and art critic Paul de Vree (19091982), editor of the poetry magazines De Tafelronde and Lotta Poetica and early promoter of Zero art, defined the avant-garde magazine.2 In De Vree’s opinion, the real seeds of artistic revolution were sown not by paintings, sculptures and poems, but by the small periodicals of avant-garde poets and artists. De Vree was not only thinking of well-known avant-garde periodicals, such as Dada or De Stijl, but also more recent publications from the fifties and sixties. In his statement, dating from the late seventies, the concrete and visual poet seems rather nostalgic for the era in which magazines, manifestoes & manifestations were the engines of a rapidly changing art world. Indeed, some twenty years later, artistic stagnation and postmodern irony had consigned the neo-avant-gardes of the late fifties and early sixties to the vaults of art history. Archives, however, always retain the possibility of activation. And the time is ripe, or so it seems. Today, the resolute booklets and self-published zines of many young DIY artists are providing alternatives to a constantly increasing art market.3 The virtually forgotten publications of their predecessors from the fifties and sixties can provide a fascinating historical context for these contemporary independent publishing practices. Furthermore, given that the development of modern art should be considered a history of ideas, as well as a history of forms, artists’ publications constitute a treasure trove of visual and conceptual data.4 While Fluxus and its publication strategies were being rediscovered in the course of the nineties, until quite recently the history of artists’ books and magazines was basically written with the focus on conceptualist and post-minimalist tendencies in the years around 1970. The printed output of the artists of the Zero, Nul and so-called ‘New Tendencies’ movements between the years 1958 and 1965 had been largely neglected.5 Yet, it provides the necessary prehistory for the boom of conceptualist artists’ publications in the period 1968 to 1978. Our understanding of these golden years could benefit from an investigation of the preceding decade that paved their way. At the same time, the high modernist legacy of Zero, Nul and New Tendencies, that leaps from their printed pages, provides a counterbalance that puts into perspective the Neo-Dadaist ideas of the Pop Art, Nouveau-Réalisme, Happening and Fluxus movements that originated more or less simultaneously. At the end of the fifties, both in Europe and the United Sates, an era drew to a close. In the crucial years between 1958 and 1965, young artists were seriously challenging the paradigms of postwar painting. From the late forties on, expressionist figuration and informal abstraction had become the dominant expressions of the avant-garde in New York and the art centers of Europe. In Europe, the international COBRA movement and its magazine had been providing a discourse based upon existentialist primitivism, post-surrealist automatism and straightforward expressionism since 1948. Close collaborations between experimental poets and COBRA painters resulted in remarkable artists’ publications Cradles of Art. Artist’s Magazines of the European Neo-Avant-garde 1958-1965


about the authors Tijs Visser is Founding Director ZERO foundation (Düsseldorf, Germany) Petri Leijdekkers is board member of ycca. He studied modern art history at the University of Groningen (RUG) with Henk van Os, Wim Beeren and Hans Locher. He was director of the Groningen Minerva Academy (1986-1999) and founding director of the Frank Mohr Institute (FMI), the postgraduate Centre of Fine Arts and Emergent Media of the Hanze University of Applied Sciences. He was on the boards of the Groningen Museum (1991-1999), the International Council of Fine Arts Deans (ICFAD, 1994-1998) and the North Dutch Dance Company ‘Galili Dance’(1998-2007). As an art historian he published among others about the relationship between the 19th century Romantic movement and 20th century abstract art, arts education, contemporary Dutch design and Media Arts. Antoon Melissen studied art history and cultural studies at the University of Amsterdam and is an independent researcher and author of books, articles and catalogue texts, with an emphasis on Dutch art of the late 1950s and 1960s in an international context. He participates in European research initiatives on the ZERO movement, and his current research focuses on the artist-driven initiatives and curating activities of the Dutch Nul group in an international setting. Publications include monographs on the Dutch Nul artists Jan Henderikse (with Renate Wiehager, Hatje Cantz Publishers, 2010) and Armando (nai010 Publishers, forthcoming March 2015), and catalogue texts on the international ZERO context, including texts for the Stedelijk Museum Schiedam, the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam, the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice and several smaller presentations. Forthcoming is a monograph on the life and work of Dutch artist Jan Schoonhoven. Johan Pas holds a PhD in art history. He teaches modern and contemporary art history at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts Antwerp. His field of research is the neo-avant-gardes of the 50s, 60s and 70s and, more specifically, their exhibition and publication strategies (artist’s books and magazines). He is a member of the ZERO-research group and has contributed essays to the catalogues of the ZERO-exhibitions in the Guggenheim Museum (2014) and the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam (2015). Apart from this he has curated several exhibitions and published several books on contemporary art. His recent books include Multiple/Readings. 51 kunstenaarsboeken 1959-2009 (2010) and Neonlicht. Paul de Vree & the Neo-avantgarde (2011).


About the Authors

colophon editors: Petri Leijdekkers,Tijs Visser graphic design and production: Martien Yland (MWFY beeld&taal) print: Pantheon Drukkers translation ‘Potential of Null’ and ‘Countdown to ZERO’: Jenny Wilson publisher: ycca centre of contemporary art (Deventer, the Netherlands) in cooperation with ZERO foundation (Düsseldorf, Germany) and archive Henk Peeters and herman de vries ©2014 ycca foundation, Deventer, the Netherlands & ZERO foundation, Düsseldorf, Germany |


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f o u n d a t i o n

Nothing in this publication may be reproduced and/or made public by means of print, photocopy, microfilm or any other means without previous written permission from the publisher.

the color blue used in this publication represents International Klein Blue (IKB), developed by Zero artist Yves Klein as part of his search for colors which best represented the concepts he wished to convey as an artist. Klein registered his paint formulation in1960, the patent for IKB was published in April 1961. Colophon



edited by ycca centre for contemporary art in cooperation with ZERO foundation D端sseldorf september 2014 |

Nul=0 three essays selection