STARTING FROM ZERO
After the horrors of the Second World War, many artists lost their faith in European culture. Some of them longed to start from zero. In Europe, nebulous groups of artists arose, taking on names such as Zero or Nul. In 1955, a group in Japan calling themselves Zero – which included Akira Kanyama, Atsuko Tanaka and Saburo Murakami – merged with another artist group called Gutai, which had been formed the previous year. The Gutai group became famous for its spectacular performances, and extreme version of action painting, of which the North American artist Jackson Pollock was the primary representative.
The quest for a point of Zero had a destructive side. Artists such as Lucio Fontana, Saburo Murakami, Niki de Saint-Phalle and Lee Lozano, with their assaults on the surface of paintings – using fire arms and knives – can be seen as an attack on century-old traditions. But these artists were also driven by a desire to open up a new space for art. Their wild experiments could be playful and humorous. Asger Jorn found inspiration in children’s creativity and founded the Scandinavian Institute of Comparative Vandalism (1961).
Yves Klein lived in Japan for several years to study judo. His monochrome paintings can be seen as part of the modernist quest for reduction and a return to group zero in painting. For Klein, however, the deep-blue pigment and gold leaf were also imbued with spiritual qualities, as in icons. Like the Gutai group, he combined the spectacular and playful with a Zen-influenced interest in nothingness, the void and meditation.