Visual Arts Overview: Otto Piene’s Sketchbooks at the Harvard Art Museums

Ora Sawyers

By Mark Favermann

MIT’s reduction is Harvard’s gain.

Processing the Page: Computer system Eyesight and Otto Piene’s Sketchbooks on look at from July 5 to 31.

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

At this time on watch is an interactive set up at Harvard Art Museums’ Lightbox Gallery that functions artist Otto Piene’s vivid and insightful sketchbooks. Established around 7 a long time, they illustrate how a world-course artist perceived and visualized his artistic procedure.

This modern reward to the Busch-Reisinger Museum consists of far more than 70 sketch textbooks kept by artist Otto Piene (1928–2014). They were donated by his widow, artist Elizabeth Goldring. Dating from 1935 to 2014, the largely unpublished sketchbooks are examples of the interdisciplinary, cross-media experiments Piene envisioned more than the system of his prolonged artistic career. The sketchbooks incorporate both equally realized and unrealized initiatives and attract on Piene’s passionate fascination in optical notion, artistic lights, and kinetic forces. They mirror of intersections of art, technologies, and the organic ecosystem in his work.

The various themes and strategies in Piene’s sketchbooks replicate his desire in the intersection of artwork, engineering, and the natural ecosystem. Every single of the volumes is by itself an art item — a transportable studio, a record of visual wondering, an imaginative platform house for substance experimentation. Piene could, when questioned, elegantly articulate (in German and English) his artistic objectives, but he felt strongly that artwork came out of the observe of art. His sketchbooks gave agency to his innovative process.

Loaded with daring expressionistic drawings, the sketchbooks are both equally pictorially interesting and instructive. Piene’s early pictures (from childhood) demonstrate a fascination as effectively as concern of know-how. He continued drawing throughout his existence and, in accordance to Goldring, he introduced sketchbooks everywhere you go they went — which include on holidays, on visits, and even to and from MIT, where he taught. Whenever he had a couple of minutes he would sketch, and his visions are layered in fascinating strategies — personal, nevertheless impersonal, not anecdotal but common.

Piene spoke about the price of collaboration, but his environmental work depended on discovering other artists to assist in producing them a fact. Technical operate on his assignments was inevitably carried out by lengthy-concerned, remarkably proficient specialists. He was always the Maestro, the Distinguished Conductor. His operate was constantly at the heart of his initiatives. In no way does this egotism diminish his art or his work’s cultural importance.

Analyzing about 9,000 sketchbook internet pages, Jeff Steward, the museum’s director of electronic infrastructure and rising technological know-how, and Lauren Hanson, the Stefan Engelhorn Curatorial Fellow in the Busch-Reisinger Museum, have uncovered several hidden narratives, which include to our knowing of Piene’s artistic consciousness. Adroit experimentation with human and AI-generated knowledge provides gallery readers an option to browse Piene’s digitized sketchbooks by working with either an iPad stationed in the gallery or their have smartphone. A digital resource that will provide open accessibility to the museums’ entire assortment of Otto Piene’s sketchbooks will be released in late August.

Two website page spread from Otto Piene’s Sketchbooks. Photograph by Astrid Hiemer, 2019.

Aside from his creative pursuits, substantially of Piene’s time was taken up as a professor at MIT and the Director of its Center for Superior Visible Experiments (1974-1994). The Heart for Sophisticated Visual Scientific tests (CAVS) was founded in 1967 and its mission was to carry art into make contact with with contemporary scientific as well as technical investigate and apply. The founding director of the Centre was the courtly Hungarian/American artist György Kepes (1906-2001). CAVS had been influenced by the instance established by earlier Bauhaus and Black Mountain College or university artistic instructional experiments. But there had been substantial distinctions. CAVS saw itself as an educational study middle for art, science, and technology. Kepes envisioned CAVS as an institutional imaginative forum that would underscore how art and science complemented each and every other by way of trans-disciplinary collaborations.

In 1968, Piene was the initially global Fellow at CAVS and in 1974 he went on to thrive Kepes as director until eventually his retirement in 1994. Previously, Piene was 1 of the founders of the worldwide artist group ZERO. In the 60s and 70s, Piene became a groundbreaking determine in multimedia and know-how-primarily based artwork, celebrated for his smoke and fire paintings and environmental “sky art” installation items.

Describing the interaction of artwork and technologies in a resourceful collaborative project, Piene noticed the scientist as adding a “brain,” the engineer incorporating an “arm,” and the artist introducing an “eye.” Most but not all CAVS artists’ initiatives were conceived and mounted in urban open up areas. Their short-term and/or internet site-certain art will work had been commonly put in in making lobby interiors, plazas, parks, stadiums, and riverbanks. Piene inhabited CAVS with artists that labored with a extensive selection of media and strategies, together with video clip, lasers, holograms, music & tone, steam, sundials, mild, kinetics, projections, robotics, and inflatables.

NYC sketch by Otto Piene, Image courtesy of the Harvard Art Museums.

Sadly, during Piene’s tenure a restrictive rule at MIT’s Listing Visible Artwork Center prohibited the exhibition of CAVS artists’ performs — no doubt yet one more outrageous example of tutorial institutional pettiness. That completely wrong was eventually righted in 2011, when Piene‘s art was finally displayed there. And even however in excess of the many years Boston grew to become an worldwide center for art and technology get the job done — thanks in a major way to CAVS — the venerable Boston Museum of High-quality Arts (MFA) and the (often) opportunistic Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA) confirmed tiny or no desire in Piene work’s or in emerging work that interlaced art and technologies. This neglect became all the much more embarrassing because his projects have been involved in nearly two hundred museums and public collections around the earth. Right here is a sampling: the Museum of Modern day Artwork the Nationalgalerie Berlin the Walker Artwork Center, Minneapolis the Nationwide Museum of Fashionable Art, Tokyo the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam the Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris. Piene lived and experienced studios in Groton, Massachusetts, and Düsseldorf, Germany.

In 2009, CAVS and the Visual Arts Application have been built-in into the MIT Plan in Art, Lifestyle, and Technologies (ACT). The upshot of this institutional go is that, sadly, CAVS disappeared. In 2018, an indifferently curated and disappointing show at the MIT Museum — Celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the MIT Middle for Sophisticated Visual Studies at the MIT Museum — lacked thoughtful historic context as the picked works competed towards each and every other for attention. To some extent, the record of CAVS can now be surveyed by way of the C.A.V.S. Particular Assortment at MIT. Sad to say, this is a constrained, narrowly selected team of functions and papers that leaves out crucial creative contributions by a quantity of other CAVS artists. Oddly, Piene’s great sketchbooks are not portion of the CAVS Unique Assortment. MIT’s reduction is Harvard’s achieve.

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

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