“Our sky was destroyed during World War II,” creaks a white-bearded eighty-six-year-old Otto Piene from in front of the lens of a video created on the occasion of his Berlin multi-sited exhibition More Sky. He explains his lasting impression with the light phenomena that would permeate his art practice for upwards of six decades, his desire to establish a new launching point for his practice, for the role of art to act as rebuilder.
In conjunction, the Neue Nationalgalerie and the Deutsche Bank Kunsthalle have organized More Sky, a festival of sorts, spanning three projects and two exhibition spaces, dedicated to the German artist’s lengthy career as a boundary breaking contemporary artist. Born in Westphalia in 1928, Piene quickly developed a willingness to interject his curiosities into his art practice. He experimented obsessively with the media of light through projection and kinetic light installations, challenging the canvas itself, disrupting tradition by smoking, charring, and setting its surfaces ablaze in order to explore the causality of light and the dynamism of the work’s very movement and evolution.
The collection exhibited at the Deutsche Bank Kunsthalle sets the stage for understanding the infatuations that drove the logical and linear development of Piene’s oeuvre—namely, his deep-rooted interest in flight. The two-part exhibition commences in the Kunsthalle anteroom with a series of drawings dating back to the artist’s early career in 1952. The black-and-white works depict a blend of anthropomorphic heavenly bodies and nudes careening through the sky, falling and rising, floating on, in, and out of the planes of sight. The interwoven bodies recall the flying metropolises of Argentinean artist Tomás Saraceno, which invite the viewer to imagine an alternative way of living and interacting.
Otto Piene, Olympia Regenbogen (Olympia Rainbow), 1972, Lithographie; © VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2014 / Courtesy Sammlung Deutsche Bank; Photo: Mathias Schormann
These expressions of energy and movement find their way out of the artwork and into the world that surrounds them. Light installations in the adjoining rooms seduce visitors to interact and dance alongside their light projections, eliminating boundaries and creating an event to which viewers pay witness. In the next room, works like Olympic Rainbow (1972), a collection of documentary data from the sky art piece in which Piene flew five helium-filled tubes over the stadium of the closing ceremony for the 20th Olympic Games in Munich in 1972, showcase the artist as not only exhibiting an interest in the aesthetics of those seen forces of light and picture, but as having taken to study of the science and ecology of unseen forces as well. In stunning color, Olympic Rainbow ascends into the sky exposing the ephemerality of wind and the conduits by which it operates above us.
At the Neue Nationalgalerie, Piene’s work The Proliferation of the Sun takes up the entirety of the ground floor. Scheduled to run from 10pm to 3am, the reverse opening hours of the museum, the work is an impressive synchronized light projection display in which a series of choreographed projectors generates a performance featuring hand-painted slides. Orbs and circles appear in the projections as approximately 1,120 slides are cast into the shadows. Involving sound, architecture, light, and performance, The Proliferation of the Sun sees Piene’s paintings leap off the 1,120 slides onto the walls, intermingling realities and demanding the revelation of new possibilities.
Otto Piene, Sky Art Event, July 19, 2014, Installation view outside Neue Nationalgalerie, Berlin; Photo: David von Becker
On July 17, 2014 Otto Piene died while in a taxi on his way to the Neue Nationalgalerie to continue preparations for the scheduled sky art event meant to mark the launch of the entire program. A posthumous homage, on July 19th three illuminated air sculptures Berlin Superstar (1984), Paris Star (2008), and Cereus Star (2008), up to 90 meters high, climbed into the sky and floated above the roof of the Neue Nationalgalerie against Berlin’s night sky.
[Image on top: Otto Piene, The Proliferation of the Sun, 2014, Installation view at Neue Nationalgalerie, Berlin; Photo: David von Becker]