The Zero Revolution – Henk Peeters

31 October 2015

In this film, artist Henk Peeters, now an old man, looks back at his career as an artist, his role in ZERO, and his relationship with Yayoi Kusama and others.

The network of artists with whom Peeters founded the Dutch Nul group included Jan Schoonhoven, Armando, and Jan Henderikse, who brought about a permanent change in the art world of the 1950s and ’60s with their innovative ideas. After the Second World War, Peeters traveled through Europe meeting like-minded artists such as Lucio Fontana, Piero Manzoni, Yves Klein, and Gunther Uecker, in Italy, France, and Germany.

The film juxtaposes unique archival images of the young Peeters, Schoonhoven, Armando, and Henderikse with recent interviews. It thereby reveals how the first responses to their work caused a shockwave in the art world: the ZERO artists were met with ridicule and mockery. More than fifty years later, ZERO is making a comeback, with major exhibitions in prestigious museums like the Guggenheim, the Martin-Gropius-Bau, and the Stedelijk Museum.

When the movement disbanded in 1966, Peeters concentrated on lecturing at the Academy of Art in Arnhem (currently ArtEZ). In the film, his former students, Joke Robaard and Paul Damsté, talk about his idiosyncratic lecturing style. His widow, Truus Peeters-Nienhuis, reminisces about her life with Peeters and the many visits of the ZERO artists to their house in Arnhem. Ad Petersen, a former curator at the Stedelijk, discusses the last ZERO exhibition in the Stedelijk.

Peeters tried to remain loyal to the ZERO ideals until long after the movement’s end, an attempt that proved to be impossible when his collection of ZERO works went under the hammer at Sotheby’s. The auction was a great success, but the old artist was not very happy about it. His last words on the subject were striking in this respect: “Yes, this is a sign of the times. That’s how it goes. And now I am sold out.”