French artist Bernard Aubertin studied in Paris beginning in 1955, and in 1957 visited the studio of Yves Klein. This would prove to be a pivotal meeting in Aubertin’s career, as Klein’s blue monochromes inspired the younger artist to adopt a monochromatic practice. These investigations aligned Aubertin with the ZERO group’s search for “a zone of silence and of pure possibilities for a new beginning” for art. Aubertin corresponded and exhibited with ZERO founders Heinz Mack and Otto Peine, and participated in the group’s search for pure energy through simplicity of form.
Founded in the late 1950s by German artists Mack and Piene, ZERO sought new forms of expression through the exclusion of color, emotion, and the personal. Their work often included motion and light, and an element of chance or environment. The ZERO group, along with Happenings, Fluxus, CoBrA, and the Gutai group, participated in an international zeitgeist that came to be known as the Neo-Avant-Garde. Like the Avant-Garde movements of the early 20th century, most notably Dada, Neo-Avant-Garde groups rejected art historical precedent in favor of radically new forms of art making.
Aubertin’s monochromatic nail compositions combine the grid structure and limited palette of contemporaneous Minimalist works with the prickly danger of Dada and
Surrealist sculpture. One is reminded of Marcel Duchamp’s Cadeau, an iron with a protruding line of nails, but also of the maximalist excesses of Aubertin’s contemporary compatriots, such as Arman, who looked to everyday materials for their art and often moved beyond the two-dimensional painting surface. Aubertin’s practice evolved in the mid-1960s as he began working in a performative mode with his matchstick paintings, staging theatric burnings that would result in compositions made up of canvas and ash. With these performances Aubertin transforms an act of destruction into an act of creation.
The work of Bernard Aubertin has been exhibited across Europe and the United States since the 1960s, including at institutions such as the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam; and the Palais de Tokyo, Paris. His work is included in many permanent collections held privately and publicly. The artist passed away in Germany in 2015.
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