Formation of the Nul group


In the 1960s a group of Dutch artists – Armando, Jan Henderikse, Henk Peeters and Jan Schoonhoven – turned against the established order under the banner of ‘Nul’ (Dutch for ‘zero’). In doing so they joined the international group known as ZERO, one of the most influential post-war art movements. The RKD holds the archive of Henk Peeters, which contains correspondence and documentation from and about the Nul group.

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Chronicler of the Nul movement

The artist Henk Peeters (1925-2013) was the driving force behind the Nul movement and of ZERO in the Netherlands. He maintained contact with artists abroad, organised exhibitions, acted as spokesman and, together with Armando, formulated the group’s aims. Peeters was furthermore the chronicler of the Nul movement and gathered information about it in an archive. His archive has been handed to the RKD and will soon be available for research. It holds a large amount of correspondence, including with Yayoi Kusama, with whom Peeters remained in contact long after ZERO. Several objects from his archive will be on display in this year’s anniversary exhibition 90 years RKD, alongside other items related to ZERO and Nul. Among these is a letter from Peeters to Piero Manzoni, which offers a glimpse into the birth of the Nul movement.

1. ‘Manifesto against nothing’ for the Internationale Ausstellung von nichts, manifesto for the exhibition held at Grandweg 24 in Hamburg, June 1960, collection RKD
2. Catalogue poster for the first ZERO exhibition to be held in a museum, Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam, 9-25 March 1962, design Henk Peeters, collection RKD
3. Jan Henderikse (with halo), Jan Schoonhoven, Henk Peeters and Armando, four members of the Nul group, postcard from Henk Peeters to Jan Henderikse, 1989, collection RKD

ZERO versus Nul

The Italian Piero Manzoni (1933-1963) was a pioneering conceptual artist whom the Nul artists regarded as a predecessor. In 1961 Henk Peeters wrote a letter to Manzoni telling him about an inspiring weekend he had organised with a group of international artists to prepare for an exhibition at the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam. Over the weekend the group defines itself, there are discussions about a title for the exhibition, about who will participate – artists from eight different countries – and we read that Peeters and Yves Klein will be the overall coordinators, charged with developing the concept. Peeters goes on to mention that in the Netherlands, the international name ZERO clashes with that of a group of painters from Rotterdam – a superfluous comment since Manzoni had been a member of ZERO at the time when this matter caused considerable irritation. The problem was resolved by using ‘ZERO’ for exhibitions held abroad and ‘Nul’ when referring to the group in a Dutch context. Thus the letter allows us to witness how the name ‘Nul’ was arrived at.