Heinz Mack - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale London Thursday, March 2, 2023 | Phillips
  • "My sculptures are new objects in space, light reflectors and instruments of movement. Time becomes perceptible in their rhythmic structures."
    —Heinz Mack 

    Unfolding in shimmering horizontal waves of highly reflective aluminium strips, Lamellen-Relief captures the utopian blend of science, technology, innovation, and aesthetic purity that defined the mid-century neo avant-garde ZERO group. Absorbing and impressive in its scale and visual effects, the work was created by one of ZERO’s founding members, Heinz Mack, in 1961 during a pivotal moment for group, just one year before its first institutional presentation held at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, and at the peak of its evolution as one of the most significant avant-garde movements of the 20th century.


    More than Zero


    Emerging from the chaos and destruction of the Second World War, many young European artists embraced the opportunity to remake the world. For Düsseldorf-based artists Heinz Mack and Otto Piene this meant moving in a radically new direction, away from both figurative traditions and the tendency towards Art Informel dominating the European avant-garde, embracing new and distinctly ‘modern’ materials and ‘incorporating technology into new forms of abstract and kinetic art.’i


    ZERO: Let us explore the stars – trailer, Stedelijk Museum, 2015. 


    Founded by Mack and Piene in 1957, ‘Zero’ took its name from the internationally recognised countdown sequence or, as Piene put it later, ‘a zone of silence and of pure possibilities for a new beginning as at the countdown when rockets take off.’ii Making assiduous use of exhibitions, magazines, and new media such as television to disseminate their ideas, the German artists’ group rapidly expanded into an international phenomenon in its short existence, adding some of the most influential post-war artists including Lucio Fontana, Yves Klein, and Yayoi Kusama to its ranks.


    Underscoring an essential participatory element that drew these diverse approaches together, the group gained notoriety through a series of public exhibition events, notably the spectacular one-evening event ZERO – Edition, Exposition, Demonstration, where crowds gathered in front of Galerie Schmela in Düsseldorf’s Old Town in the July of 1961, the same year as the present work’s execution. Combining elements of performance and spectacle, the event captured the sense of energy and optimism percolating at the dawn of the space age, encapsulated by the release of Friedrich-Karl von Oppeln’s hot air balloon into the night sky above the crowded streets below. Anticipating the performances and ‘Happenings’ staged by the Fluxus group, the demonstration has become emblematic of the ZERO’s shared vision, their message of ‘media in and of itself’ and the ‘possibility of art-as-event.’iii


    Friedrich-Karl von Oppeln’s hot-air balloon outside Galerie Schmela, Düsseldorf, during ZERO: Edition, Exposition, Demonstration, July 5, 1961. Image: ZERO foundation, Inv-Nr: mkp.ZERO.1.V.201, Heinz Mack Estate, Düsseldorf, Photo: Paul Brandenburg


    Art in the Space Age


    Once held in the prestigious private Lenz Schönberg collection, the world’s most important collection of ZERO works, Lamellen-Relief presents an elegant distillation of some of the group’s key aesthetic concerns - especially in relation to light, time, motion, and the centrality of the viewer’s interaction with the work itself. An important example of Mack’s Early Metal Reliefs, it also represents a critical moment in the young artist’s maturation, extending the rhythmic striations of his early monochromatic painting into three dimensions. While the surface of these early paintings appeared to move and vibrate due to the arrangement of the artist’s marks in accordance with his concept of a new structural order of pictorial space which he termed ‘The New Dynamic Structure’, with Lamellen-Relief, Mack successfully activates the dynamic potential of his materials. Like feathered wings and ancient examples of Lamellar armour, the small overlapping aluminium plates are here laced together into horizontal rows, the shifting, reflective surface breaking into brilliant, fluctuating panels of light determined by the viewer’s perspective and position in relation to it.

    “One must—and this is not an exaggeration—keep in mind that we’re living in the atomic age, where everything material and physical could disappear from one day to another, to be replaced by nothing but the ultimate abstraction imaginable.”
    —Yves Klein

    First discovered in the early decades of the 19th century, aluminum was a quintessentially ‘modern’ material. A crucial resource during the First and Second World Wars, it was absolutely central to strategic developments in aviation, while its highly reflective surface and malleability lent themselves to a wide range of increasingly indispensable post-war mass-produced objects. Given its ubiquity and close conceptual connections to flight and modes of futuristic thinking, it is unsurprising that aluminum remains the material most closely associated with mid-century visions of the future.


    Although utterly of its time in this respect, in its poetic symbiosis of art and technology Lamellen-Relief also looks back to the integration of light and motion, art and machine-age technology in the kinetic works of pioneering artists as Man Ray, Marcel Duchamp, and László Moholy-Nagy in the early decades of the 20th century. One of the earliest examples of Light Art, Moholy-Nagy’s 1930 Light Prop for an Electric Stage or Light-Space Modulator as it would later be known offers an important precedent, its moving parts designed to create a dynamic series of reflections and shadows across its surrounding surfaces.


    Left: László Moholy-Nagy, Lichtrequisit einer elektrischen Buehne (Light Prop for an Electric Stage), 1922-30 (reconstruction 1970), Photo, 1973 (Exhibition at the Bauhaus-Archiv, Berlin). (Berlin-Bild). Image: akg-images / ullstein bild
    Right: ‘The Race to Space’, poster (United States), ca. late 1950s. Image: Everett Collection, Inc. / Alamy Stock Photo

    Disrupting any reading of its surface as static and two-dimensional, Lamellen-Relief exemplifies the critical investigations into light and motion, space and time that has defined Mack’s practice since the 1950s. Executed at a critical moment in the artist’s career, the work is not only a defining piece of ZERO art, but exemplifies Mack’s pioneering approach to the viewer’s role in completing the art work, an approach that has shaped a generation of artists, including the immersive installations of Icelandic-Danish artist Olafur Eliason. As Mack’s friend, fellow artist and co-founder of the Zero group Otto Piene emphatically defined it, ZERO is not a style, a group, or even a movement but ‘a point of view'.iv


    Collector’s Digest


    • Exhibiting internationally since 1959, Heinz Mack has participated in over 300 exhibitions worldwide, with examples of his work held in over 130 public institutions including the Musée national d’art modern – Centre Pompidou, Paris; The Museum of Modern Art, New York; The Tate Collection, London; and the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, amongst others.

    • Once part of the Sammlung Lenz Schönberg – the largest collection of ZERO works in the world – the present work has exceptional provenance and was selected to represent the movement as the front cover image of the 2006 retrospective Zero. Künstler Einer Europäischen Bewegung, hosted by the Museum der Moderne in Salzburg. When it last appeared at auction in 2010, Lamellen-Relief set a new record for the artist's work. 

    • The recipient of many awards and accolades, central themes of Mack’s work include light and motion, exemplified by the present work.

    • In recent years the ZERO movement has received increasing critical attention, a multi-year research project supported by the ZERO Foundation in Düsseldorf and resulting in a program of talks, publications, and exhibitions at some of the most prestigious institutions in the world including the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York, the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, and the Martin-Gropius Bau in Berlin.


    i Kwame Opam, ‘These rebels made art for the space age with light and flamethrowers’, The Verge, 12 October 2014, online.

    ii Otto Piene, quoted in Kwame Opam, ‘These rebels made art for the space age with light and flamethrowers’, The Verge, 12 October 2014, online.

    iii Caroline Jones, ‘ZERO: Countdown to Tommorow, 1950s-60s: Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York’, Artforum, March 2015, online.

    iv  Otto Piene, quoted in Group Zero (exh. cat.), Philedelphia, 1968, n.p.

    • Provenance

      Carlo van den Bosch, Antwerp
      Lenz Schönberg Collection, Germany (acquired from the above in 1970)
      Contemporary Art Evening Auction Including Property From The Sammlung Lenz Schönberg, Sotheby’s, London, 10 February 2010, lot 1
      Acquired at the above sale by the present owner

    • Exhibited

      Frankfurt, Städtische Galerie im Städelsches Kunstinstitut, Das Städel zeigt: Beispiele aus der Sammlung Lenz, Kronberg, 28 November 1974 – 26 January 1975, no. 25, n.p. (illustrated)
      Antwerp, Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten Antwerpen, Zero Internationaal Antwerpen, 1979 – 1980
      Salzburg, Museum Carolino Augusteum, Eine europäische Bewegung: Bilder und Objekte aus der Sammlung Lenz Schönberg, 24 July – 13 October 1985
      Munich, Städtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus, ZERO. Vision und Bewegung. Werke aus der Sammlung Lenz Schönberg, 28 September – 6 November 1988, pp. 118, 187 (illustrated, p. 119)
      Moscow, Zentrales Künstlerhaus am Krimwall, Sammlung Lenz Schönberg: Eine europäische Bewegung in der bildenden Kunst von 1958 bis heute, 7 July – 3 September 1989, pp. 152, 256 (illustrated)
      Warsaw, Galeria Zachęta, Po Śladach Czasu - Poza Granice Przestrzeni. Kolekcja Lenza Schönberga, 27 February – 5 April 1992, p. 196
      Warsaw, Galeria Zachęta, Sammlung Lenz Schönberg. Aus der Stille der Zeit - über die Grenzen von Raum, 27 February – 5 April 1992, p. 152 (illustrated)
      Innsbruck, RLB Kunstbrücke, ZERO. Die europäische Vision – 1958 bis heute. Sammlung Lenz Schönberg, 8 April – 15 June 2003, p. 46 (illustrated, p. 47)
      Zagreb, Muzej Suvremene Umjetnosti, ZERO. Die europäische Vision, 1958 bis heute. Sammlung Lenz Schönberg, 29 April – 20 June 2004, pp. 87, 138 (illustrated)
      Museum der Moderne Salzburg, ZERO. Künstler einer europäischen Bewegung. Sammlung Lenz Schönberg 1956-2006, 21 January – 2 July 2006, p. 98 (illustrated, p. 99; illustrated on the exhibition poster)
      Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt, OP ART, 17 February – 20 May 2007, pp. 238, 316 (illustrated, p. 239)
      Hong Kong, Ben Brown Fine Arts, Heinz Mack: Colour, Light, Rhythm, 30 November 2011 – 20 January 2012, no. 9, pp. 24, 82 (illustrated, p. 25)

    • Literature

      Dieter Honisch, Mack: Skulpturen 1953-1986, Düsseldorf, 1986, no. 552, p. 502 (illustrated)
      Bożena Kowalska, 'Kolekcja Gerharda Lenza. Gerhard Lenz's Collection', Projekt. Sztuka wazualna i projektowanie visual art & design, no. 195, June 1990, pp. 7-11 (illustrated)
      'Zero: Die europäische Vision – 1958 bis heute. Sammlung Lenz Schönberg', Vernissage. Das Magazin für aktuelles Ausstellungsgeschehen 23, no. 223, April 2003, pp. 22-25 (illustrated)
      'Zero - Ausdruck des Neubeginns', Tirolerin. Die Illustrierte, 16 May 2003, p. 140 (illustrated)
      'RLB-Kunstbrücke verlängert Ausstellung "ZERO – Die europäische Vision" bis 9 Juni', Tiroler Tageszeitung, 30 May 2003, p. 7 (illustrated)
      ‘Spirit des Neubeginns’, Econova. Wirtschaftsmagazin, May-June 2003, pp. 88-89 (illustrated)
      Jelena Mandić, ‘Vrh suvreme europske umjetnosti’, Novi List, 7 January 2004, p. 57 (illustrated)
      Renata Margaretić Urlić and Darko Glavan, ‘Zbirka koja konkurira svim važnijim muzejima’, Dnevnik, 21 April 2004, p. 26 (illustrated)
      ‘Europski projekt nove duhovnosti’, Fokus, 11 June 2004, p. 48 (illustrated)
      Anna and Gerhard Lenz, eds., The Zero Era. The Lenz Schönberg Collection: Living in Art, Vol. I, Ostfildern, 2009, no. MA-04, p. 100 (illustrated, p. 101)
      Anna and Gerhard Lenz, eds., Epoche Zero. Sammlung Lenz Schönberg. Leben in Kunst, Band 2, Ostfildern, 2009, no. MA-04, p. 205 (Zentrales Künstlerhaus am Krimwall, Moscow, 1989 installation view illustrated, pp. 103, 106; Galeria Zachęta, Warsaw, 1992 installation view illustrated, pp. 140-141; illustrated, p. 164; Museum der Moderne Salzburg, 2006 illustrated on the exhibition poster, p. 174)



signed and dated 'Mack 61' on the reverse
aluminium on panel
130 x 105 cm (51 1/8 x 41 3/8 in.)
Executed in 1961.

Full Cataloguing

£200,000 - 300,000 ‡♠

Sold for £381,000

Contact Specialist

Rosanna Widén
Senior Specialist, Head of Evening Sale
+44 20 7318 4060

Olivia Thornton
Head of 20th Century & Contemporary Art, Europe
+44 20 7318 4099


20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 2 March 2023