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A black flag emblazoned with the word ZERO hangs outside the museum, less ominous than classically revolutionary. Inside, a projection screen in the rotunda shows selections of films and printed matter from the exhibition upstairs. The signature image is a rocket launch, a perfect expression of the technologically inflected postwar optimism that defines the German art group Zero and the larger “Zero network” of like-minded artists, whose members hailed from various Western European capitals (and included outliers from America and Japan). Taken together, their work reveals a shared preoccupation with natural processes, everyday materials, plays of light and texture, and moving parts, both optical and mechanical.

“ZERO: Countdown to Tomorrow, 1950s–60s,” which fills all six floors of the Guggenheim through January 7, 2015, was clearly an ambitious undertaking by Guggenheim curator Valerie Hillings (it is Zero’s first major museum survey in the United States). The group’s core members — Heinz Mack and Otto Piene, who met as students in Düsseldorf in 1959, and Günther Uecker, who joined them in ’61 — are relatively established figures, but less is known about their collaborative work and connections to the larger European scene.

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