'The title Zero was the result of months of search and was finally found more or less by chance. From the beginning we looked upon the term not as an expression of nihilism - or a dada-like gag, but as a word indicating a zone of silence and of pure possibilities for a new beginning as the countdown when rockets take off' (O. Piene, "Die Entstehing der gruppe Zero" in The Times Literary Supplement, 3 September 1964).
At nearly two metres in length, Goldgold as its title suggests, is a large and ambitious example of Otto Piene's first Rasterbilder that presents an intense vibrating field of shimmering gold colour highly evocative of the life-giving, and ethereal power of sunlight. The cosmic energy of sunlight is a theme invoked by several other important Rasterbilder from this period including those with similarly evocative titles such as Soleil (Sun) now in the Nationalgalerie in Berlin, Zur Geschichte des Lichts (The History of Light) and Ein Fest für das Licht in the Kunstmuseum Dusseldorf. As the titles of these works reveal, Piene's Rasterbild served as the first springboards not only for the artist's later smoke and fire paintings but also for his 'light and motion' works such as his celebrated 'Light ballets' of the early 1960s.
A large gold monochrome painting punctuated by a regular grid of material dots, Goldgold is one of Piene's first Rasterbilder. These were the radical groundbreaking and highly celebrated group of paintings he began in 1957 and with which he inaugurated his influential concept of 'Zero' - the name and concept of the 'Group Zero' that he founded at this time with Heinz Mack.
Influenced by the expanded sense of possibility offered by Yves Klein's 'monchrome proposition', and by the 'Spatialist' aesthetics of Lucio Fontana, 'Group Zero', founded in Dusseldorf in 1957, took its name and meaning from the moment of a rocket's lift-off and aimed to 'shoot the viewer into space' ultimately awakening them to a new era of possibility. 'Zero' marked therefore both an historic endpoint and a beginning. 'From the beginning we looked upon 'Zero'', Piene wrote 'not as an expression of nihilism or a dada-like gag but as a word indicating a zone of silence and of pure possibilities for a new beginning like at the countdown when rockets are started - zero is the incommensurable zone in which the old state turns into the new' (Otto Piene 'Paths to Paradise', 1961 in O. Piene and H. Mack, Zero, Cambridge 1973, p. 148)
Created, soon after Piene and Mack had completed their course in Hegelian philosophy at the University of Cologne in 1957, the origins of 'Zero' coincided directly with Yves Klein's Monochrome Propositions exhibition held at the newly opened Galerie Schmela in Dusseldorf. Klein's monochrome canvases - singular abstract monochrome paintings empty of all gesture and formal organization - seemed to point the way to a new art of abstraction that extended beyond the canvas place out into the realm of real life and experience. Piene, who traveled to Paris with Mack soon after meeting Klein at this exhibition to meet with the French artist again, described Klein as 'perhaps the real motor provoking a 'Zero Group'.
The Rasterbilder that Piene began to make at this time aimed to emulate and extend the sense of new spatial possibilities indicated by Klein's monochromes or Fontana's punctured canvases through the medium of light and vibration. Executed in a series of colours - white, yellow, silver and gold - deliberately evocative of either a pure or spatialist concept of light the 'light' of these colours was intended to flow 'between the work and the spectator and fill the space between them. This space cannot be quantified because the spatial properties of the work are irrational - the work 'as space' is irrational'. (Ibid, p. 46) Key to Piene's concept with these works was his notion of vibration and of the picture as an energy-generating surface. 'Vibration', he somewhat poetically explained, is 'living growing nuance, that which prohibits contrast, shames all tragedy and disbands all drama. It is the vehicle of frequency, the blood of colour, the pulse of light, pure emotion, the purity of a picture, pure energy.' (Otto Piene quoted in Zero Künstler einer europäischen Bewegung, Sammlng Lenz Schönberg 1956-2000, exh. cat. Salzburg, 2006, p. 122)
Energizing the purity and light-intensity of their monochrome colour, Piene's Rasterbilder were aimed at heightening this wave-like sense of the vibratory radiance of light extending beyond the picture plane and out into the world through their raised surface of repeated dots. Made by applying a thick coat of paint over a patterned stencil, the shimmering but regular and therefore also seemingly autonomous or depersonalized pattern of dots disrupted the two-dimensionality of the painting's surface with a volatile but rhythmic pattern of light and shade accentuating the vibratory power of the colour and light as it radiates and reflects into space.