Sotheby’s “Zero Art” Sale

Sotheby’s February sale of 49 works from the so-called “Zero Art” movement from the private collection of Gerhard and Anna Lenz are expected to fetch more than 12 million pounds ($20.2 million) and will form part of the auctioneer’s London contemporary art sale in 2010.

The pieces on offer include works by leading contemporary and post-war artists including Yves Klein, Lucio Fontana, Piero Manzoni and Guenther Uecker who are all associated with the European movement Zero.

Jan Schoonhoven
Jan Schoonhoven, “Relief R 69-1”, 104 x 104 cm. Executed in 1969. Estimate: 180,000 GBP – 250,000 GBP. Photo: Sotheby’s

“The paintings being offered for sale have been heartfelt acquisitions, picture by picture,” Gerhard Lenz said in a statement.

“My wife and I have now reached an age where we are compelled to tighten up the collection and make ready for it to be passed on.”

The couple have collected around 600 works, concentrating on a movement set up in the 1950s which sought to abandon the art of the past, and by extension the sins of the past generation which brought fascism and world war, and start from scratch.

Their 1963 manifesto statement read: “Zero is stillness: Zero is the beginning.”

The movement began in April 1957 with a series of exhibitions around the studios of Heinz Mack and Otto Piene in Duesseldorf, Germany, and eventually incorporated the work of Klein, Fontana, Manzoni and others.

The top lot on offer at the London sale is “Feu 88” by Klein, one of a series of Fire Paintings by the French artist completed a year before he died in 1962 aged 34.

It is expected to fetch 3.5-4.5 million pounds.

Also on offer is his “MG 25,” part of his Monogold cycle of paintings which is forecast to raise 800,000-1.2 million pounds. Klein’s larger “MG 9,” from the same series, sold for $23.6 million in 2008.

Sotheby’s has been encouraged by the resilience of the art market to recent financial turmoil, with its New York contemporary auction this month raising $134.4 million, well in excess of expectations.

The Collectors:
Initially Anna and Gerhard Lenz have avoided cultivating a close relationship with the artists, so as to maintain their own independency and impartiality. Their excellent eye and high sensitivity to quality have resulted in what is an exceptional collection of Post-Informel (Nachinformel) – ZERO Art. In the artists’ opinion, Mr. and Mrs. Lenz have always acquired their best pictures. Over the years and right up to the present day, Anna and Gerhard Lenz have built up close friendships with a number of artists. This has enriched their lives and brought them great happiness. They hope to be able to continue their relationships with their artist friends, and to go on collecting their works as in the past.

The ZERO group was initiated in April 1957 with a series of exhibitions around the studios of Heinz Mack and Otto Piene in Düsseldorf. It went on to become one of the most significant collaborative movements of Post War art and eventually incorporated the work of Yves Klein, Lucio Fontana, Piero Manzoni, Daniel Spoerri, Jean Tinguely, and Günther Uecker among others. In addition to inexpensive studio space and the renowned Academy, artists were drawn to Düsseldorf by the gallery of Albert Schmela, which opened in May 1957 with an exhibition of Klein’s Monochromes and played a pivotal role in the development of ZERO art. While Klein was included in the seventh ZERO exhibition in April 1958, Fontana and Manzoni contributed to the eighth show the following month. Indeed, ZERO brought together protagonists of pioneering contemporary artistic movements from across Europe, including Nouveau réalisme and Arte Povera. The ideology of the ZERO group was voiced through its own eponymous magazine, which was published between 1958 and 1961 and included influential texts by Piene, Mack and Klein. These celebrated artists shared the common ambition to abandon art of the past, including Post War Informel painting, and start again from ‘zero’, forging new approaches to creativity and enlisting unprecedented media. Their collective innovation resulted in works of spectacular beauty that realigned audiences’ perspectives on the rapidly changing world around them, in accordance with their 1963 manifesto statement: “Zero is stillness: Zero is the beginning.”

Highlights in the Collection:

Yves Klein (1928 – 1962), “Feu 88”, (fire). Body and water imprints on paper laid down on wood, 140 by 300 cm. Executed in 1961. Estimate: 3,500,000 GBP – 4,500,000 GBP.

Spanning a monumental three metres in width, “Feu 88” is the largest and most significant example of Yves Klein’s renowned Fire Paintings ever to be presented at auction. Executed in 1961, the penultimate year of Klein’s tragically brief existence and a period of phenomenal creativity, this extraordinary work is one of only seven Fire Paintings to include outlined shadows of the human form, thereby bringing together Klein’s Feu works with the iconic blue female silhouettes of his earlier Anthropométrie paintings. One of the two largest paintings of this illustrious series, which is represented in international museums including the Centre Pompidou, “Feu 88” is exceptionally rare and stands as a masterpiece not only of Nouveau réalisme but also of the wider revolution in painting and sculpture that took place in the middle of the Twentieth Century.

Yves Klein (1928 – 1962), “MG 25”. Gold leaf on panel, 53 x 51 cm. Executed in 1961. Acquired directly from the above by the present owner in 1986. Estimate: 800,000 GBP – 1,200,000 GBP.

The archetype of Klein’s stunning cycle of Monogold paintings, “MG 25” encapsulates his brilliant and pioneering path of ontological artistic enquiry. Paralleling the achievements of his eponymous “International Klein Blue Monochromes”, the lustrous and subtly variegated gold leaf surface of “MG 25” radiates a captivating golden aura and evokes rich connotations from the sacred to the alchemical. The medium also forges a thematic link between the polar opposites of materiality and the immaterial. As denoted by the inscription on the reverse, Klein gave this work to his friend the esteemed American sculptor Richard Stankiewicz, which further enriches the extraordinary narrative of this unique and historic work.

Lucio Fontana (1899 – 1968), “Concetto Spaziale, Ritratto Di Carlo Cardazzo”, oil, mixed media and glass stones on canvas, 125 x 85 cm. Executed in 1956. Estimate: 1,000,000 GBP – 1,500,000 GBP.

Fontana’s spectacular painting “Concetto spaziale, Ritratto di Carlo Cardazzo” belongs to the very highest tier of the Pietri series that occupied the artist from 1951 to 1958. While other examples from this series are now housed in the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, the Centre Pompidou, Paris, and the van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven, this painting is one of only seven Pietri works of at least this scale that remain in private collections. Widely admired as a portrait of Fontana’s friend Carlo Cardazzo, it is the only Pietri painting that has this designated subtitle in addition to the ubiquitous Concetto spaziale. Cardazzo had opened the Galleria del Naviglio in Milan in 1946 and became Fontana’s first dealer after the artist’s return from Argentina the following year. Indeed this painting was created in the same year as an exhibition at Cardazzo’s gallery celebrated the first ten years of Spatialism.

Lucio Fontana (1899 – 1968), “Concetto Spaziale” (Venice). Copper, 198 x 98 cm. Executed in 1962/63. Estimate: 1,500,000 GBP – 2,000,000 GBP.

Dominated by Fontana’s single vertical slash, “Concetto spaziale” (Venice) is an iconic artwork of irresistible visual power that conflates the artist’s most recognisable creative gesture with his pioneering employment of unconventional materials. The serrated incision has been viscerally torn through the reflective copper expanse, rupturing the smooth surface and cutting a narrow window onto the infinite space of the Spatialist void beyond the picture plane. At the same time, the scored oval line that circumscribes the tagli slash invokes themes of cyclical continuity and the infinite, as well as sculpting the metal into a landscape of lyrical fragmentation.

Lucio Fontana (1899 – 1968), “Concetto Spaziale”. Signed, copper. 200 x 100 cm. Executed in 1964. Estimate: 1,500,000 GBP – 2,000,000 GBP.

Lucio Fontana’s majestic “Concetto spaziale” epitomizes the artist’s Metalli corpus of punctured and lacerated copper panels that stand today as icons of his legendary Abstract Spatialism. These hanging sculptures were inspired by the glass and metal skyscrapers of New York following his visit there in late 1961, and with its bucchi holes gashed through the sheet metal this “Concetto spaziale” comprises one of the most beautiful compositions in the entire series. From the Louisiana Museum in Humlebaek, to the Pinakothek der Moderne in Munich, to the Von der Heydt Museum Wuppertal, Metalli works reside in some of the world’s leading art institutions and, aside from just two other works, this is the largest copper Metalli remaining in private hands.

Further Highlights Include:

Günther Uecker B. 1930
“Haar der Nymphen”
150 x 150 cm.
Executed in 1964
100,000 GBP – 150,000 GBP

Heinz Mack b.1931
“Ohne Titel” (Lamellen-Relief)
130 x 105 cm.
Executed in 1961.
25,000 GBP – 35,000 GBP

Otto Piene b. 1928
111 x 111 cm.
Executed in 1961.
35,000 GBP – 45,000 GBP

Piero Manzoni
“Untitled” (Achrome)
69 x 52 cm.
Executed in 1958/ 59.
450,000 GBP – 650,000 GBP

Jan Schoonhoven
“Relief R 69-1”
104 x 104 cm.
Executed in 1969.
180,000 GBP – 250,000 GBP