With its reverberating corrugated texture and luminescent palette, Klassisches Lichtrelief is a fascinating example of Heinz Mack's early practice. Executed in 1959, just two years after Mack and fellow German artist Otto Piene founded the influential Zero group, Klassisches Lichtrelief bears witness to the movement's innovative aim to eradicate familiar modes of gestural painting in favour of an artistic tabula rasa that promoted innovative materials and processes. As Mack has explained, 'We were goaded on by the question, how could we make a fresh start, having resolved irreversibly that we would abandon the old, secure niches. We were motivated to take on the crisis in order to overcome it by creative means, for all the doubts, all the vexation, all the isolation associated with such a tack, all the willful criticism, the ill will and derision with which bourgeois society and its institutional transmitters of cultural values ostracised us. The zero-point that was ZERO's premise was a piece of fiction by which we hoped to be able to overcome ossified matrices of thinking and seeing, in favour of a more open world. We wanted, and had to forsake the familiar territories in order to seek out new spaces whose coordinates were unknown' (H. Mack, 2009, quoted on www.zerofoundation.de/statements.html [accessed 24 February 2015]).
Exploring the dematerialization of the art object, in Klassisches Lichtrelief Mack plays with the material qualities of aluminium, adapting its malleability to create a surface that oscillates rhythmically. Prefiguring the concerns of kinetic and optical art, Mack investigates the sculpting qualities of light, an element whose immateriality is encapsulated in Klassisches Lichtrelief 's radiant vertical patterns. 'The quality of light, that is its beauty, is essentially a purely sensorial value, its perception a creative act of freedom within the sphere of our sensibility By this I mean to say that the quality of light is conceptually not verifiable. Only the science of aesthetics is able to investigate the conditions which underlie this act of perception' (H. Mack, 'Light is not Light', 1964, quoted in Heinz Mack. Early Metal Reliefs 1957-1967, exh. cat., Sperone Westwater, New York 2011, unpaged).