Heinz Mack

* 08 03 1931 | Lollar

Heinz Mack wrote art history as one of the founders of the ZERO artist group. Together with Otto Piene and Günther Uecker, he launched a new, revolutionary art and initiated one of the most important international avant garde movements of the post-war era during the waning 1950s and early 1960s. Mack’s extensive oeuvre includes columns, reliefs, cubes and rotors of light, outdoor installations and art, painting, pastels, drawings and printed graphics, photography, stage design and bibliophilic works.


Works by Heinz Mack

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Heinz Mack
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Vita Heinz Mack

1931

Born on 8 March in Lollar, Hesse.

1950–53

Studied at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf.

1953–56

Studies philosophy at the University of Cologne.

1953–58

Initially dedicated himself to informal painting, soon followed by the development of his “Dynamic Structures” in painting and drawing, plaster and metal reliefs (light reliefs).

1955

First journey to the Sahara. Stay in Paris.

1957

Founding of the avant garde ZERO artist group in Düsseldorf together with Otto Piene. Joined by Günther Uecker in 1961.

1958

Awarded the art prize of the city of Krefeld. Second journey to the Sahara.

1959

Participation in the Junge deutsche Maler (Young German painters) exhibition in Kassel, parallel with documenta II.

1963

Distinguished with the Premio Selezione Marzotto, Italy.

1963/64

First stay in New York, studio in Chelsea Hotel 45.

1964

Participation in documenta III in Kassel. Second stay in New York, studio 10th street, 410 east.

1965

Awarded the 1. Prix arts plastiques, IV. Biennale de Paris.

Seit 1967

Studio and place of residence at the Huppertzhof in Mönchengladbach.

1968

Mack became a regular member of the Academy of Arts in Berlin, which he left in protest in 1992.

1970

Adolf-Grimme recognition award for the film Tele-Mack from 1968. Mack accepted a professorship in Osaka, Japan. End of teaching activity in the same year.

1971

Culture Prize of the Biennale Cinema of Venice for the film Tele-Mack from 1968.

1975

Participation in the first South-North expedition through the Ténéré desert in Africa.

1979

Distinguished with the first prize of the international competition Licht 79, Eindhoven, Netherlands.

1982

A 3 x 4.5-metre light spectrum as a homage to Goethe on the occasion of the Goethe anniversary.

1987

Awarded the order of merit of the state of North Rhine-Westphalia.

Seit 1989

Studio on the island of Ibiza.

Seit 1991

The artist began painting again, resulting in his “Chromatic Constellations”.

1992

Distinguished with the Großer Kulturpreis des Rheinischen Sparkassen-Verbands (grand culture prize of the Rhenish association of savings banks), Düsseldorf.

1998

A suite of works on paper was created for Goethe’s West-östlicher Divan.

1999

The artist book Mack – Ein Buch der Bilder zum Westöstlichen Divan von Johann Wolfgang v. Goethe appeared on the occasion of the 250th birthday of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.

2004

The artist was presented with the Grand Cross of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany in recognition of his work and his impact as a cultural ambassador.

2008

The city of Düsseldorf and the Kunstpalast founded the ZERO foundation. The foundation received the archives and many works of the artists Mack, Piene and Uecker and is dedicated to research, supporting and promoting documentation and exhibitions. The focus is on all international artists pledged to the ZERO idea.

2009

The artist received the ring of honour of the city of Mönchengladbach.

2011

Honoured with the Great Cross of Merit with Star of the Federal Republic of Germany.

2012

The Kulturstiftung Dortmund presented Mack with the culture prize of the city.

2014

The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York opened an important ZERO exhibition that was presented in 2015 in the Martin-Gropius-Bau, Berlin, in the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, as well as in the Sakip Sabanci Museum, Istanbul. The sculpture ensemble The Sky Over Nine Columns on the island of San Giorgio Maggiore in Venice was revealed in June. Other exhibitions of this installation took place in Istanbul in front of the Sakip Sabanci Museum with a view of the Bosporus (2015), in Valencia in the Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias (2016), as well as on the shore of Lake St. Moritz in the Engadin valley of Switzerland (2016/17)

2015

Unanimously chosen as an honorary member of the Staatliche Kunstakademie Düsseldorf

2016

Awarded the Jan Wellem Ring of the city of Düsseldorf.

2017

Honoured with the Moses Mendelssohn Medal for his artistic contributions to the commemoration of persecuted and murdered people and his commitment on behalf of tolerance and international understanding.

2018

Special exhibition in the Goethe Museum, Düsseldorf, “Taten des Lichts” – Mack & Goethe.

2019

The first Mack exhibition on the African continent took place in the Musée Théodore Monod d’Art Africain in Dakar, Senegal.

2020/21

Despite the Covid pandemic, numerous exhibitions and publications on the occasion of the 90th birthday of the artist. Mack’s work is accessible to the public to the present day in 400 solo exhibitions and many group exhibitions.

Mack’s works are found in 140 public collections. A large number of books, catalogues and three films document his career.

Heinz Mack lives and works in Mönchengladbach and on Ibiza.

About Heinz Mack

Beginnings

At the end of 1955, the young Heinz Mack initially travelled for the first time to Paris as a teacher of art and philosophy following his studies of art at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf and of philosophy at the University of Cologne. His acquaintanceships with Yves Klein, Constantin Brâncuși and Lucio Fontana provided impulses for his own artistic development.

ZERO

In 1957, Mack, together with Otto Piene, initiated the so-called evening exhibitions in the Düsseldorf studio of the two artists, from which originated the ZERO magazine and the artist group of the same name, which Günter Uecker joined in 1961. The goal of the artists was a radical renewal of art, in that they declared light, air, fire and water to be artistic materials. From Düsseldorf, ZERO conquered the world and formed a loose association of international artists extending far beyond Europe. In 1964, Mack, Piene and Uecker presented a joint light room at documenta III in Kassel with the title “Hommage à Fontana”, before the core of the group dissolved in 1966.

Works of the ZERO period

In bold experiments, Heinz Mack developed a new pictorial language with monumental light columns, vibrating light reliefs and cubes that reflect light, as well as motorised rotors, which focused on light and movement. He is also seen as a leading representative of Kinetic Art. With the use of Plexiglas and aluminium, he also incorporated completely new materials into the visual arts.

Painting of the ZERO period

The “Dynamic Structures”, often in the non-colours of black and white, dominated in painting. These are paintings in which the traditional painting composition is dispensed with in favour of a homogeneous structure of repetitive elements in intervals or sequences. Mack thus introduced a new, dynamic concept of structure to painting. In 1963, he painted his initially last painting on canvas and subsequently dedicated himself exclusively to sculpture with a variety of materials like metal, stone, wood, plaster, sand, glass and ceramics.

“Column Forest”

One of the highlights in the work of the 1960s is the “Column Forest”, shown in 1966 in der Howard Wise Gallery in New York and consisting of 20 vertically towering, flat columns of Plexiglas and aluminium, which bundled, refracted and reflected the light in the room. Mack presented his columns once again in a modified form in 1970 in the German Pavilion of the 35th Biennale in Venice.

Desert and Arctic

In 1959, Heinz Mack spoke publicly for the first time about a large-scale Sahara Project. He realised his “Jardin Artificiel” several times in the deserts of Africa as of 1962/63. The Sahara Project was ultimately realised in 1968 in the context of the film Tele-Mack in the Tunisian desert, in that the artist installed columns, mirrors, reflectors, wings, fans and cubes amidst the sand dunes. They allowed the glaring sunlight to refract, reflect and vibrate in multiple ways and transformed untouched nature into a light-kinetic space. In 1976, the artist travelled for the first time to the Arctic and expanded his sculptural repertoire with floating objects.

Return to painting

In 1991, Heinz Mack once again took up brush and palette and has since then called his paintings “Chromatic Constellations”, referring to the musical term of chromaticism. In it, he examines colour as a manifestation of light in a brilliantly colourful palette. While an interplay of geometric forms provides the formal skeleton in many of his works, other works are characterised by a pattern or weave distributed across the entire image area.

“The Sky over Nine Columns”

From June to November 2014, parallel with the 14th Biennale Architettura, Heinz Mack realised a monumental sculpture ensemble with nine tetragonal, golden columns on Isola di San Giorgio Maggiore in Venice. Its surfaces consisted of a mosaic of countless thousands of tiny platelets of 24 carat gold leaves produced specifically for this purpose, encased in paper-thin glass panes. They bundled and reflected the light in this way in phenomena of light that are permanently changing. The sculpture was also shown in Istanbul, Valencia and St. Moritz between 2015 and 2017.

Works in public space

Interventions into urban planning situations – squares, parks, façades – are another important aspect in the oeuvre of the artist. Especially in the years from 1970 to 2000, numerous monumental sculptures of concrete, steel, granite or marble, reflecting columns, kinetic objects, water sculptures, light reliefs and columns, mosaics, as well as designs for squares, including the Jürgen-Ponto-Platz in Frankfurt am Main and the Platz der Deutschen Einheit in Düsseldorf were created. Also worthy of mention is the design of sacral spaces, such as the Catholic chapel at the archiepiscopal Collegium Marianum in Neuss, the chapel of St. Elisabeth in Mettmann and the church of St. Theresia in Kaiserslautern.

Text authored and provided by Dr. Doris Hansmann, Art historian

Studies of art history, theater, film and television, English and Romance Languages at the University of Cologne, doctorated in 1994. Research assistant at the Art Museum Düsseldorf. Lecturer and project manager at Wienand Verlag, Cologne. Freelance work as an author, editor and book producer for publishers and museums in Germany and abroad. From 2011 chief editor at Wienand Verlag, from 2019 to 2021 senior editor at DCV, Dr. Cantz’sche Verlagsgesellschaft, Berlin. Numerous publications on the art of the 20th and 21st centuries.

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