This Summer, while I was in Berlin during a tour in Germany, I went to Otto Piene exhibition “More Sky”, both at the Neue Nationalgalerie and at the Deutsche Bank KunstHalle (Berlin, July 17 – August 31, 2014). Unfortunately Otto Piene, who actively collaborated to the making of the exhibition, unexpectedly died just in the day of the opening, so this exhibition acquired a particular relevance. Piene, born in Germany in 1928, can be considered as one of the key figures of the environmental art and of the use of the technologies as expressive media.
Piene mainly worked in Germany and in the United States, where he was the first fellow of the CAVS (Center for Advanced Visual Studies), founded by György Kepes at MIT. In 1972 he became professor of Environmental Art at MIT, and in 1974 he succeeded Kepes as director of the CAVS, where he served for almost twenty years. As I also noted in my book Realtà del virtuale, the CAVS has been one of the most important centers in the experimentation of the new technologies in art, also because since the early ‘70s it was able to individuate both some of the main directions (video, laser, computer, holography, use of the light) and the contexts and topics (the relationships with the environment, the interactivity, the perception issues, the sinesthesiae). «Light is Plato’s canvas that holds the universe together and the binding glue that connects all-more than ideas, language, “nature”. Light is the stuff of our “cosmo-conscious” era, [it] appears to be the main ingredient of “High-tech” art, subjectively, objectively, globally, universally.» [Otto Piene, “USA ART and Technology”, in Satoshi Saito (ed.), Artec ‘89, Nagoya, The Chunichi Shimbun, 1989, p.115].
In the Berlin exhibition the Deutsche Bank KunstHalle mainly hosted Piene’s early works (stencil paintings, light prints and light sculptures, installations, smoke drawings and fire paintings) and documents about his activity, included the awesome 800 meters long Olympic Rainbow he made for the Munich Olympiad in 1972.
The Neue Nationalgalerie presented two events. The first one, on July 19, was a unique Sky Art event, with three illuminated, up to 90 meters air sculptures in star shape floating in the Berlin night sky. The second one, that I could see, was a spectacular slide installation, The Proliferation of the Sun, presented every evening at the Neue Nationalgalerie.
It was originally conceived for a small off space in New York in 1967 and performed that same year in Nuremberg, Cologne, and Dortmund. The show consists in colorfully shimmering shapes on over 1000 hand-painted glass slides that are projected into the open exhibition space, resulting in what Piene calls a “poetic journey through space.”. The shadows of the people who are walking around are projected by the lights onto the screens, the walls and the images, creating an event where people become active participants.
It was a stunning evening, a great show and many people participated to the event. As the website states, “the reconstruction of this spectral color experience will develop a special evocative power in the upper hall of the Neue Nationalgalerie, confronting the architecture of the Mies van der Rohe building — which will close for renovations at the end of 2014 — with Piene’s idealism and utopian visions.”