The faceless masses:
“Parade of the Zeros”

Werner Heldt (1904 – 1954)

Drawing by Werner Heldt, charcoal on handmade Guarro paper, 47 x 63,3 cm
© Berlinische Galerie / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2019

This chalk drawing on woven paper shows a huge urban square, beyond it a wall of buildings and a street receding into the distance. The space is crammed full of people. Black banners and empty signs rise from the mass. The countless heads are represented by monotonous rows of zeros.

Werner Heldt (1904–1954) watched with concern from the late 1920s as political mass movements grew. He saw a threat to values such as the (personal) freedom of the individual. When the Nazis came to power in 1933, the artist fled into exile in Mallorca. There the theme of the “masses” haunted him with a new urgency. He left behind a lengthy essay and a few drawings, including this one. The artist called it “Parade of the Zeros”. Another title is simply “Meeting”.

Heldt depicts an unquantifiable multitude crammed between the buildings of a city. The artist opts for a radically simple formula: monotonous rows of zeros symbolise the faceless anonymity of the mass. Individuality is renounced and disappears. In this unbroken array the zeros are an elemental natural force. Like a great river, they threaten to wash everything away and destroy it.

Meeting (Parade of the Zeros)
Charcoal on guarro-deckle
47 x 63,3 cm
Acquired with funds from the Foundation DKLB and funds from the Senator of Science and Art, Berlin 1975

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