Ottp Piene

Light and Air

April 5 - September 7, 2014

The Langen Foundation is showing an exhibition by Otto Piene as its contribution to the Quadriennale 2014. Piene focuses on his most important media in the new installations on show: the energies light and air. The highlight of the show is a day-long festivity with Piene's Sky Event on August 9th.

Otto Piene (1928-2014), co-founder of the ZERO movement, proclaimed post-war art's zero hour together with Heinz Mack and Günther Uecker in the late 1950s. The group demanded a radical artistic fresh start, a break with art's traditional principles and conventional media. Instead of paint and brush, the artists experimented with new materials and with the elemental forces of nature itself: light, motion, wind, fire, air and energy. Piene furthermore intensely occupied himself with new technologies. He went to the United States in the late 1960s where he headed the Center for Advanced Visual Studies at the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Boston from 1974 to 1994.

A unique oeuvre has come about as result of Otto Piene's consequential dealings with the themes of light, motion and space over period encompassing more than five decades. Alongside his light kinetic pieces he also produced grid and fire pictures, air and light sculptures as well as staged Sky Events. The artist, who consistently worked with the most modern materials and latest techniques, was alway concerned with the links between technology and nature, with the "reharmonization of the relationship between man and nature".

This leitmotif likewise shapes the presentation at the Langen Foundation that Piene conceived specially for Tadao Ando's museum architecture. He produced giant inflatable sculptures for one of the two eight-metre high exhibition spaces; the works are filled with air at rhythmic intervals and then deflated again. The second exhibition space is dedicated to the theme of light. The interaction between a space-defining light wall and a cubic sculpture creates a contemplative atmosphere that contrasts the noisy dynamism of the inflatables.

The highlight of the presentation at the Langen Foundation is Otto Piene's Sky Event on August 9th - an action form that he has been carrying out since the 1960s. Assisted by a large number of participants helium-filled sculptures ascend into the the sky over the course of a whole day. Like Tadao Ando's architecture, Piene's art interacts with the surrounding landscape, with water and sky. The action takes places in conjunction with a large festivity that he comprehends as the central part of his piece: the celebration as a collective event, which remains in the participants' memories as an enriching new experience.

Beyond tomorrow is the motto of the Quadriennale 2014. Otto Piene's exhibition at the Langen Foundation reflects this theme in numerous ways. The collective experience, the joint action that emphasizes the social aspect of art, his technical aptitude, the immateriality of the inflatables, floating works, but also the integration of nature that he has postulated for decades - all of these moments can inspire contemporary thinking beyond tomorrow. With this contribution to the Quadriennale 2014 the Langen Foundation furthermore wishes to pay its respects to the unbroken relevancy and topicality of an artist whose work has been a part of the collection of Viktor and Marianne Langen since the beginning of his artist career in the 1950s.

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Installation view Light and Air, Langen Foundation, Neuss<
© VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2014, Foto: Katja Illner

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