'The world is going to change radically.’ Henk Peeters (b. The Hague, 1925) said so more than once. The statement was an expression of his deep desire for a Communist society. It was not to be, but Peeters remained an idealist. Together with Armando and Jan Schoonhoven, he founded the Nul group – the Dutch arm of the international ZERO movement (including artists like Piero Manzoni en Lucio Fontana), with which he maintained close contacts. Their art was all about eliminating the artist’s personal style and elevating everyday life to art through the use of ordinary materials. Peeters used cotton wool, feather and hair in his artworks and even ‘drew’ and ‘painted’ with smoke and fire. This autumn, the Gemeentemuseum’s Willem Cordia Room welcomes the first ever one-man show of Henk Peeters’ work from the 1960s. A major installation involving bags of water will be recreated especially for the occasion. It was originally on show at the successful international ZERO-0-NUL exhibition held at the Gemeentemuseum in 1964.
Peeters was a spider in the web of the international ZERO movement of the 1960s and it was thanks to his efforts that the big Zero/Nul exhibition was held in the Netherlands (partly at the Gemeentemuseum in the The Hague, the city where the Nul group enjoyed its heyday). He disseminated and published Nul and ZERO manifestos and even today is an important source of information for researchers and writers concerned with the history of ZERO and Nul.
Peeters elevates everyday life to art; he believes in the synthesis between the two and wants to make art accessible to everyone. This was also the ideal of the Nul movement; Armando used ordinary gloss paint and Schoonhoven cheap extra-thick wall paint as part of the effort to undermine the elevated status of the artwork. Peeters also used materials that needed no personal handling; he used cotton wool, feathers, hair, smoke and fire to create works that may not exhibit the personality of the artist in the handling of their materials, but are nevertheless capable of conveying great sensitivity through their texture and relief.
A deep-rooted democratic principle underlies Peeters’ art, choice of materials and personal philosophy. The socialist ideals inculcated in him during his childhood are a major motivation for all his activities – of which there have been many. In addition to being an artist, Peeters has also been at various times a museum education officer, an art school teacher, a typographer, a creative arts therapist, a curator, an organizer, an activist, a television-maker and an advisor to public institutions.
The exhibition is realized in close cooperation with the ZERO foundation, Düsseldorf.
To mark the occasion of the forthcoming exhibition, the catalogue of the Haags Gemeentemuseum’s 1964 exhibition Zero (Mack/Piene/Uecker) – Nul (Schoonhoven/Armando/Henk Peeters) is to be republished as multiple.
The first ever monograph on Henk Peeters, echt peeters. Henk Peeters/realist/avant-gardist, written by Jonneke Jobse (VU) and Marga van Mechelen (UVA), is also being published to coincide with the exhibition (Uitgeverij De Kunst, price € 39.95).