‘The sky is the largest canvas we have’ announces a voice in a video at the Otto Piene exhibition in Berlin. Piene was an artist whose ambitious works required a large stage, eventually leading to the creation of a new sort of ephemeral art installation, Sky Art. If this is the overriding legacy of Piene’s practice, then More Sky allows the viewer to become acquainted with the diversity of his creative enterprise. More Sky presents an overview of Piene’s practice, from works on paper, to large-scale installations, and culminating in a one-off ‘Sky Art Event’ where an inflatable sculpture was raised above the Neue Nationalgalerie in Berlin.
From 1957 Piene was at the centre of the Zero art movement whose diverse practice reflected the search for a new identity in post war Germany. The name Zero was apparently chosen by the group of artists as it is the last word pronounced before a rocket is launched, but it also suggests the ground zero that young Germans faced after the devastation of the war. The result of such a situation was in fact an incredible sense of freedom, as young German artists were liberated from the past, and became free to create and discover new ways of making art. Otto Piene’s work is exemplary of this generation, his diverse practice representing the constant search to make new and challenging works.
The More Sky exhibition is spread across two locations. The first is the Deutsche Bank KunstHalle where the variety of Piene’s practice is on display. Paintings, screenprints, lithographs and sculptural objects populate the space, giving a sense of the artist’s desire to experiment. The common themes in these works, created over the many decades that Piene was active, speak of his interest in fusing art with nature and science in order to create a more encompassing art experience for the viewer. The various works lead the visitor through the space and towards the gallery’s showpiece, Lichtraum. The work is installed in a dark, windowless room at the back of the gallery. In the room there are four objects from which light is intermittently emitted. As the objects come to life they create patterns of light that dance across the surface of the room’s walls. The work is pleasingly hypnotic and acts as a reminder that often uncomplicated concepts are the most effective.
If the work at the KunstHalle gives a sense of the variety of Piene’s work, it is at the Neue Nationalgalerie that the visitor can experience the effectiveness of a single work by Piene in all its large-scale glory. Originally conceived for a small, contained space in 1967, The Proliferation of the Sun’s latest incarnation experiments with scale, allowing the projection more space to illuminate. The result is a visual spectacle. Walking into the vast space of the Neue Nationalgalerie the visitor is immersed in projections that splay across various surfaces. The imagery is playful and colourful, but ultimately not the most important element of the installation. It is the form rather than the content that makes this work so powerful. Piene reminds the viewer of the magic of the projected image, made even more beguiling when you can immerse yourself in it and become overwhelmed by the scale and light of the images.
Otto Piene’s More Sky is on at the Deutsche Bank KunstHalle and the Neue Nationalgalerie in Berlin until August 31, 2014.
All photos by Jasmine Powell