Visible Arts Review: Otto Piene’s Sketchbooks at the Harvard Artwork Museums

By Mark Favermann

MIT’s reduction is Harvard’s acquire.

Processing the Web page: Laptop Vision and Otto Piene’s Sketchbooks on view from July 5 to 31.

Portrait of Otto Piene in 2012. Photograph: Michael Gottschalk/Photothek.

At present on look at is an interactive set up at Harvard Artwork Museums’ Lightbox Gallery that characteristics artist Otto Piene’s vivid and insightful sketchbooks. Produced over seven decades, they illustrate how a earth-class artist perceived and visualized his inventive approach.

This new present to the Busch-Reisinger Museum includes a lot more than 70 sketch publications held by artist Otto Piene (1928–2014). They have been donated by his widow, artist Elizabeth Goldring. Courting from 1935 to 2014, the largely unpublished sketchbooks are illustrations of the interdisciplinary, cross-media experiments Piene envisioned more than the training course of his prolonged inventive vocation. The sketchbooks include things like both of those recognized and unrealized projects and attract on Piene’s passionate interest in optical notion, artistic lights, and kinetic forces. They reflect of intersections of artwork, technological know-how, and the natural ecosystem in his function.

The various themes and techniques in Piene’s sketchbooks mirror his interest in the intersection of artwork, technology, and the all-natural atmosphere. Each individual of the volumes is itself an artwork object — a moveable studio, a document of visual pondering, an imaginative system space for content experimentation. Piene could, when asked, elegantly articulate (in German and English) his artistic objectives, but he felt strongly that artwork arrived out of the follow of artwork. His sketchbooks gave agency to his artistic course of action.

Stuffed with bold expressionistic drawings, the sketchbooks are both pictorially pleasing and instructive. Piene’s early pictures (from childhood) exhibit a fascination as properly as panic of technology. He continued drawing throughout his everyday living and, according to Goldring, he brought sketchbooks just about everywhere they went — like on holidays, on trips, and even to and from MIT, where he taught. When he experienced a several minutes he would sketch, and his visions are layered in appealing approaches — personalized, but impersonal, not anecdotal but universal.

Piene spoke about the value of collaboration, but his environmental work depended on finding other artists to help in building them a actuality. Complex function on his projects was inevitably carried out by very long-involved, very qualified gurus. He was generally the Maestro, the Distinguished Conductor. His work was constantly at the center of his initiatives. In no way does this egotism diminish his art or his work’s cultural significance.

Analyzing about 9,000 sketchbook web pages, Jeff Steward, the museum’s director of electronic infrastructure and emerging technological know-how, and Lauren Hanson, the Stefan Engelhorn Curatorial Fellow in the Busch-Reisinger Museum, have uncovered a variety of concealed narratives, which incorporate to our knowledge of Piene’s creative consciousness. Adroit experimentation with human and AI-created information presents gallery readers an option to look through Piene’s digitized sketchbooks by making use of both an iPad stationed in the gallery or their own smartphone. A digital useful resource that will supply open entry to the museums’ full selection of Otto Piene’s sketchbooks will be launched in late August.

Two webpage distribute from Otto Piene’s Sketchbooks. Picture by Astrid Hiemer, 2019.

Aside from his inventive pursuits, significantly of Piene’s time was taken up as a professor at MIT and the Director of its Middle for Sophisticated Visible Scientific studies (1974-1994). The Center for Innovative Visible Research (CAVS) was established in 1967 and its mission was to provide artwork into speak to with present-day scientific as properly as technological study and exercise. The founding director of the Center was the courtly Hungarian/American artist György Kepes (1906-2001). CAVS had been influenced by the illustration established by earlier Bauhaus and Black Mountain College or university artistic educational experiments. But there had been sizeable differences. CAVS observed by itself as an educational investigation centre for art, science, and engineering. Kepes envisioned CAVS as an institutional inventive forum that would underscore how artwork and science complemented just about every other by using trans-disciplinary collaborations.

In 1968, Piene was the 1st intercontinental Fellow at CAVS and in 1974 he went on to be successful Kepes as director until his retirement in 1994. Beforehand, Piene was one particular of the founders of the global artist group ZERO. In the 60s and 70s, Piene turned a pioneering determine in multimedia and know-how-based mostly artwork, celebrated for his smoke and fireplace paintings and environmental “sky art” set up items.

Describing the interaction of art and technological know-how in a artistic collaborative job, Piene observed the scientist as introducing a “brain,” the engineer including an “arm,” and the artist including an “eye.” Most but not all CAVS artists’ assignments were being conceived and installed in city open up spaces. Their short term and/or web site-particular art operates were frequently mounted in setting up foyer interiors, plazas, parks, stadiums, and riverbanks. Piene inhabited CAVS with artists that labored with a vast assortment of media and techniques, including movie, lasers, holograms, audio & tone, steam, sundials, light-weight, kinetics, projections, robotics, and inflatables.

NYC sketch by Otto Piene, Impression courtesy of the Harvard Artwork Museums.

Regrettably, during Piene’s tenure a restrictive rule at MIT’s Record Visible Art Heart prohibited the exhibition of CAVS artists’ operates — no question nonetheless a different outrageous case in point of academic institutional pettiness. That wrong was eventually righted in 2011, when Piene‘s art was at last shown there. And even while around the many years Boston grew to become an worldwide center for artwork and technology get the job done — thanks in a significant way to CAVS — the venerable Boston Museum of Fantastic Arts (MFA) and the (typically) opportunistic Institute of Present-day Art (ICA) confirmed tiny or no desire in Piene work’s or in rising operate that interlaced artwork and engineering. This neglect turned all the a lot more embarrassing since his initiatives have been incorporated in practically two hundred museums and general public collections close to the earth. Right here is a sampling: the Museum of Modern day Art the Nationalgalerie Berlin the Walker Art Heart, Minneapolis the National Museum of Modern-day Artwork, Tokyo the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam the Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris. Piene lived and had studios in Groton, Massachusetts, and Düsseldorf, Germany.

In 2009, CAVS and the Visible Arts Plan ended up integrated into the MIT Program in Art, Culture, and Technological innovation (ACT). The upshot of this institutional go is that, unfortunately, CAVS disappeared. In 2018, an indifferently curated and disappointing exhibit at the MIT Museum — Celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the MIT Middle for Highly developed Visual Research at the MIT Museum — lacked thoughtful historical context as the picked is effective competed against every other for attention. To some extent, the record of CAVS can now be surveyed by means of the C.A.V.S. Unique Selection at MIT. Sad to say, this is a confined, narrowly selected group of performs and papers that leaves out significant innovative contributions by a amount of other CAVS artists. Oddly, Piene’s superb sketchbooks are not section of the CAVS Distinctive Collection. MIT’s loss is Harvard’s get.

Mark Favermann is an urban designer specializing in strategic placemaking, civic branding, streetscapes, and community art. An award-successful general public artist, he produces practical public artwork as civic design and style. The designer of the renovated Coolidge Corner Theatre, he is design and style guide to the Massachusetts Downtown Initiative Application and, since 2002 has been a layout consultant to the Boston Pink Sox. Crafting about urbanism, architecture, style and design and good arts, Mark is contributing editor of The Arts Fuse.