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“Things Come Full Circle”
The press responds to “Otto Piene. More Sky”

Otto Piene is one of the greatest pioneers of 20th-century art. In Berlin, the co-founder of the ZERO movement was honored with no less than three projects: the Deutsche Bank KunstHalle presented his visionary early work, while the Neue Nationalgalerie featured his psychedelic slide installation “The Proliferation of the Sun.” One of Piene’s Sky Art events formed the spectacular beginning to the two-part show; it was to become his legacy. Following the two major openings, and in the midst of preparations for the Sky Art event that followed, Otto Piene died suddenly on July 17, 2014 at the age of 86. His exhibitions in Berlin met with enthusiastic response in the press, and following his unexpected death, numerous eulogies on Piene have underscored his extraordinary influence—also on the current art scene.
The two most important German art magazines honored Otto Piene even before the opening of the double show in Berlin: for art, Claudia Bodin visited the artist on his farm in Massachusetts. To Bodin, Piene seems to be “a personified piece of art history (…) he carried the art to the outdoors, where it could be experienced. He took away its elitist, intimidating element.” For Monopol, Boris Pofalla conducted an interview with the “Elysian Zero artist” in which he explains the background behind his Sky Art: “After the Second World War, understanding that the sky was no longer a place of danger, but of deliverance, a place for a new way of understanding the world—this was an almost physical experience at the time.” The Welt am Sonntag also conducted a lengthy conversation with Piene. In answer to Christiane Hoffman’s question as to what the sky meant to him, he answered with a single word: “Freedom.”

In the Zeit, Sven Behrisch underscores Piene’s influence on younger generations: “One cannot emphasize strongly enough the extent to which his Sky events paved the way for artists such as Ólafur Elíasson and Anish Kapoor.” For Karlheinz Schmid of the Kunstzeitung, it is chiefly Piene’s “never-ending readiness for experimentation” that makes him so interesting to these artists: “The list of artists that have learned from Piene extends from Ólafur Elíasson to Tomás Saraceno.”

“Piene’s light and fire art was a perfect match for the young, experimental Berlin scene,” writes Ingeborg Ruthe in the Berliner Zeitung. His slide installation “The Proliferation of the Sun” transformed the Nationalgalerie into a “magically beautiful space. (…) It seemed as though Otto Piene had created this light and sun installation especially for the building’s glass architecture.” Concerning the presentation of his early work at the Deutsche Bank KunstHalle, Ruthe praises the “dense, chamber-like exhibition architecture that forces viewers to take a closer look at the multimedia, nearly overwhelming oeuvre.” In the Tagesspiegel, Nicola Kuhn writes: “With a total of 60 works, Deutsche Bank presents an overview that reaches back to the nineteen-seventies. The works are surprising in their freshness and quality. The light prints, which Piene made early on in his studio in Dusseldorf, the sun paintings, whose concentric dots arose through a superimposed stencil grid, the graphite spirals—all of these works could have been made by young contemporary artists.” Barbara Wiegand of Deutschlandradio Kultur was also impressed by the presentation: “The retrospective part in the Deutsche Bank KunstHalle is intriguing in its lively concept, which allows enough space for the powerful aura of these works and for the effects produced by the light-emitting devices.”

What the BZ, in reference to the dual show, has called a “spectacular homage” to the ZERO pioneer, also rouses enthusiasm at the taz: “The Berlin art summer could hardly have begun in a more spectacular and path-breaking way.” “With dedication and care, the Nationalgalerie and the Deutsche Bank Kunsthalle once again pay tribute to the aeronaut Otto Piene, who already began floating weightless figures through pictorial space in the early nineteen-fifties,” writes the Berliner Morgenpost.

For Niklas Maak (FAZ), Piene is a “pioneer of a decisive extension of art into everyday life. (…) The fact that Otto Piene, despite his influence on contemporary thinking and art, is far less present on the exhibition circuit than painters such as Anselm Kiefer or Georg Baselitz, is something that must be corrected; the exhibitions in Berlin are an important contribution to the reevaluation of his work.” In the FAS, Boris Pofalla observes: “Light and movement instead of static painting and sculpture, happening instead of devotion—this is how Piene works to this day.” Gottfried Knapp of the Süddeutsche Zeitung concurs: “More than anyone else, Piene took art out of the studio, transposed it to the outdoors and put it to motion, and enriched it with an array of technical and mechanical possibilities of expression.”

Following his sudden death, Otto Piene has also been honored internationally. Here, the influence of ZERO is paid particular attention: “The group has exerted immeasurable influence on contemporary art practice in Germany,” writes Artnet. “Their work anticipated developments in land art, Minimalism, Conceptual art and performance art,” writes the New York Times.

The Sky Art event on the roof of the Neue Nationalgalerie became Piene’s legacy: “There was a reverent mood in the air; people also came to pay their respects to Piene. (…) There could have been no more beautiful farewell than to see his star sculpture glow once more in the sky above Berlin,” writes Saskia Hödl in the taz. In the Tagesspiegel, Simone Reber explains: “Everyone concurs: posthumously, Otto Piene gifted Berlin with the most beautiful public art viewing since Christo’s wrapping of the Reichstag.”

The eulogy printed in the Spiegel avers that “only shortly before his death, Otto Piene said that he particularly enjoyed showing his work again in Berlin. This is where he had one of his first solo exhibitions decades before. ‘Things come full circle.’” And in Focus, Gabi Czöpan observes that “an exhibition in New York was planned for October as the highlight of his career. Now, the show ‘ZERO—Countdown to Tomorrow, 1950-60s’ at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum will become the first commemorative exhibition for one of art’s greatest.”