16th September – 7th April 2023
Heinz Mack was one of the most important German artists of the postwar generation, who reconfigured the relationship between art and technology. This exhibition presents reconstructions of environments that are not well known as well as works from all of the artist’s creative phases.
In a quest to find a new harmony between humankind, nature, and technology, in the 1950s, Heinz Mack was one of the first artists in Germany to work with kinetic principles in art. Light and movement are central themes for Mack, who together with Otto Piene founded the artists’ group ZERO in Düsseldorf in 1957.
Until the 1950s, elements of matter and the environment, light, fire, air, and water, had appeared in the visual arts as representations through imitation — mimesis. Mack treated these elements as though they were sculptural and pictorial means of expression like any other in his artworks. By incorporating these elements and using new industrial materials such as aluminum, acrylic glass, or Fresnel lenses, Mack revolutionized and extended the concept of sculpture: he creates virtual spaces, actively integrates his transparent and light-reflecting objects into spaces, and allows them to interact with spaces in a variety of ways — effectively pioneering a new way to involve the viewer in his work.
The exhibition addresses little-known themes deriving from all of the artist’s creative phases. Conceived to be part of the »Grossen Industrieausstellung« (Great Industrial Exhibition) mounted in Berlin in 1970 and regarded by Heinz Mack himself as one of his major works, the »Licht-Environment« (Light Environment) is the central work of this solo show, which has been reconstructed and will be exhibited in the ZKM’s lofty 14 meters high atriums. With its elements of light kinetics and water, the »Licht-Environment« — a work as yet unknown to art audiences — is an energetic gesamtkunstwerk that brings together different elements into a harmonious whole. The use of water, color, light in the strings of lights, light grids and nests of lights, together with the simultaneous, programmed movement of the individual works within the environment creates a multi-sensory impression of immersion.
The second signature work in the exhibition is the »Sahara Project«, a fixed point in Mack’s work since 1959 which made him a pioneer of Land Art in Europe. Here the artist gives up the role of engineer and sees himself more as a creator who continues the intentions of nature using his artistic resources. The boundless expanse of the desert was an ideal place for Mack to manifest light and space in their purest form. The act of installing the art objects — light-reflecting stelae, cubes and fans, sand reliefs and walls of mirrors — in the desert sands sums up the essence of Mack’s work and also the basic idea of ZERO: to rebuild the language of visual art. The »Sahara« Project is also one of the first works of European art to be conceived in terms of media, for the stelae and the other works were only set up in the desert for the duration of taking photographs.
The exhibition »Mack at the ZKM« is not only about reconstructing forgotten masterpieces, but also about translating the problem that occupied Mack into the 21st century, into the Anthropocene. For he is one of the few artists who have always worked with the elements of air, water, light, and sand, which are in a precarious state today. Mack’s attitude towards nature and technology raises questions and offers approaches to solutions that are becoming ever more relevant in view of the human-made climate catastrophe we are facing today.
Copyright: Archiv Heinz Mack / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn, 2023