Bosphorus Istanbul Turkey

The Zero Art Movement: the artistic movement you never heard of?

Leigh Turner
Leigh Turner

The Zero Art Movement was a group of German artists founded in Düsseldorf in the late 1950s.  You might find you like them.

What is the most famous art movement you have never heard of?

It could be the “Zero Art Movement”.  Let’s explore it.

The Zero Art Movement The Sky Over Nine Columns - Heinz Mack

The Sky Over Nine Columns – Heinz Mack (with Bosphorus behind)

The Zero Art Movement

The Zero art movement was based mostly in Germany in the years 1957-69.  Let’s listen to one of its founders, Otto Piene, in his Paths to Paradise:

I go to darkness itself, I pierce it with light, I make it transparent, I take its terror from it, I turn it into a volume of power with the breath of life like my own body, and I take smoke so that it can fly.

Maybe that is magnificent.  Maybe it’s meaningless.  I’m not sure.  Maybe you’re not sure either. But wait.

When I was invited to visit the exhibition ZERO. Countdown to the Future at the Sakip Sabanci Museum in Istanbul, I tried to keep an open mind; but feared for the worst.

Zero Art: Lightdisc No.5 Günther Uelker

Lightdisc No.5 Günther Uelker

The Zero Art Movement in Istanbul

My fear was misplaced.  The show is magnificent.

Works such as Yves Klein’s Pure Pigment, Heinz Mack’s Light Curtain in Space and Otto Piene’s Fireflower grow across three floors of the Museum’s mostly subterranean galleries into a hypnotic rhythm of often minimalist art reminiscent of Ben Nicholson or, in the case of Heinz Macke’s intriguing Sahara Project, Christo – whose work I have also seen mainly in Germany.

I ended up wishing I had more time to stay and soak up the show – including an intriguing-looking 52-minute film about Zero I didn’t have a chance to watch.


Pure Pigment – Yves Klein

Modern works

In addition to works from Zero’s heyday, the show features several modern works including Otto Piene’s Inflatables, produced in the year of his death in 2014; and Heinz Macke’s terrific The Sky Over Nine Columns, whose impact is boosted by a setting overlooking the Bosphorus (see the first picture in this blog).

For: challenging, stimulating focus on a fascinating and not entirely mainstream period of modern and contemporary art.

Against: if you hate modern art, this show is unlikely to change your views.  Avoid like the plague or head straight to the restaurant while your friend or partner enjoys the exhibition.

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