Friday, November 21, 2014

"ZERO: Countdown to Tomorrow, 1950s-1960s" at the Guggenheim

Are cold wars better than hot wars?  This question was demanded of me upon entering ZERO: Countdown to Tomorrow, 1950s-1960s, a historical survey of the Cold War-era international artist group now exhibiting at the Guggenheim.  
I typically am not so casual to wear earbuds while at the museum, but listening to 1980‘s “end of Cold War” music while gazing down from the top floor provided an insightful foil to the “beginning of Cold War” display light, color, and movement anticipated at each descending level. 

Zero Founder Otto Piene’s explains the name as “a zone of silence and of pure possibilities for a new beginning.”  With the stage stage cleared for artistic expression came the possibility of a literal clearing of the earth’s landscape.  Abstraction came with actual obstructed truths.  Zero’s resulting art is kinetic, colorful, and meaningfully playful.

Günther Uecker’s Light Disk, 1964 rotates, shifting shadows casted by hundreds of straight nails, illuminated by a single flood light. “The City” emerges, both beautiful and threatening in its starkness.  Yves Klein is comfortably placed into Art Pop style; a field of his patented pigment color IKB (international Klein Blue) mesmerizes and affects just the way he planned.  Numerous artists worked in painting with fire, leaving scorched canvases marked with performative gesture.

So to answer the question I began with, “No, because all wars are bad!”  But surely the fatalism of the time was constructively turned on its head by Zero, and transformed into a destiny beyond the bomb.

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