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

By Mark Favermann

MIT’s loss is Harvard’s acquire.

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

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

Now on look at is an interactive set up at Harvard Artwork Museums’ Lightbox Gallery that features artist Otto Piene’s vivid and insightful sketchbooks. Developed about 7 decades, they illustrate how a entire world-course artist perceived and visualized his artistic approach.

This the latest present to the Busch-Reisinger Museum contains extra than 70 sketch guides retained by artist Otto Piene (1928–2014). They had been donated by his widow, artist Elizabeth Goldring. Dating from 1935 to 2014, the mainly unpublished sketchbooks are illustrations of the interdisciplinary, cross-media experiments Piene envisioned around the training course of his very long imaginative career. The sketchbooks involve both recognized and unrealized jobs and draw on Piene’s passionate fascination in optical perception, artistic lights, and kinetic forces. They replicate of intersections of art, technology, and the purely natural natural environment in his do the job.

The numerous themes and approaches in Piene’s sketchbooks reflect his fascination in the intersection of artwork, technological innovation, and the purely natural atmosphere. Every single of the volumes is by itself an art object — a transportable studio, a history of visual thinking, an imaginative platform place for product experimentation. Piene could, when requested, elegantly articulate (in German and English) his creative aims, but he felt strongly that art arrived out of the practice of artwork. His sketchbooks gave agency to his innovative process.

Stuffed with daring expressionistic drawings, the sketchbooks are both of those pictorially interesting and instructive. Piene’s early photos (from childhood) show a fascination as effectively as dread of know-how. He ongoing drawing during his daily life and, according to Goldring, he introduced sketchbooks everywhere they went — which include on holidays, on outings, and even to and from MIT, exactly where he taught. Each time he had a couple of minutes he would sketch, and his visions are layered in intriguing strategies — own, still impersonal, not anecdotal but universal.

Piene spoke about the benefit of collaboration, but his environmental do the job depended on getting other artists to assist in building them a truth. Technical function on his jobs was inevitably carried out by prolonged-involved, really proficient industry experts. He was generally the Maestro, the Distinguished Conductor. His function was usually at the center of his attempts. In no way does this egotism diminish his artwork or his work’s cultural importance.

Examining around 9,000 sketchbook web pages, Jeff Steward, the museum’s director of electronic infrastructure and rising technology, and Lauren Hanson, the Stefan Engelhorn Curatorial Fellow in the Busch-Reisinger Museum, have uncovered a variety of concealed narratives, which increase to our understanding of Piene’s imaginative consciousness. Adroit experimentation with human and AI-generated information offers gallery people an opportunity to browse Piene’s digitized sketchbooks by utilizing possibly an iPad stationed in the gallery or their individual smartphone. A electronic resource that will supply open accessibility to the museums’ full assortment of Otto Piene’s sketchbooks will be launched in late August.

Two webpage unfold from Otto Piene’s Sketchbooks. Image by Astrid Hiemer, 2019.

Aside from his artistic pursuits, much of Piene’s time was taken up as a professor at MIT and the Director of its Heart for Superior Visible Scientific tests (1974-1994). The Middle for Highly developed Visual Reports (CAVS) was launched in 1967 and its mission was to provide art into get hold of with present-day scientific as perfectly as technological study and follow. The founding director of the Middle was the courtly Hungarian/American artist György Kepes (1906-2001). CAVS had been encouraged by the case in point set by before Bauhaus and Black Mountain Higher education artistic instructional experiments. But there ended up sizeable dissimilarities. CAVS saw by itself as an academic study middle for artwork, science, and technology. Kepes envisioned CAVS as an institutional creative discussion board that would underscore how art and science complemented every other by way of trans-disciplinary collaborations.

In 1968, Piene was the to start with international Fellow at CAVS and in 1974 he went on to succeed Kepes as director right until his retirement in 1994. Previously, Piene was one particular of the founders of the international artist team ZERO. In the 60s and 70s, Piene turned a pioneering figure in multimedia and technological innovation-dependent artwork, celebrated for his smoke and fireplace paintings and environmental “sky art” set up pieces.

Describing the interaction of artwork and technology in a innovative collaborative task, Piene noticed the scientist as incorporating a “brain,” the engineer introducing an “arm,” and the artist introducing an “eye.” Most but not all CAVS artists’ assignments had been conceived and put in in city open spaces. Their short-term and/or website-unique art functions had been generally put in in building foyer interiors, plazas, parks, stadiums, and riverbanks. Piene inhabited CAVS with artists that worked with a broad range of media and methods, like video clip, lasers, holograms, new music & tone, steam, sundials, mild, kinetics, projections, robotics, and inflatables.

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

Unfortunately, during Piene’s tenure a restrictive rule at MIT’s Record Visible Art Center prohibited the exhibition of CAVS artists’ is effective — no question nevertheless yet another outrageous example of tutorial institutional pettiness. That wrong was finally righted in 2011, when Piene‘s art was ultimately displayed there. And even even though around the many years Boston turned an international heart for artwork and engineering perform — thanks in a key way to CAVS — the venerable Boston Museum of Wonderful Arts (MFA) and the (frequently) opportunistic Institute of Modern day Art (ICA) showed very little or no interest in Piene work’s or in emerging perform that interlaced artwork and know-how. This neglect turned all the much more uncomfortable simply because his initiatives have been integrated in nearly two hundred museums and community collections all around the earth. Right here is a sampling: the Museum of Modern-day Art the Nationalgalerie Berlin the Walker Art Middle, Minneapolis the Countrywide Museum of Contemporary 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 Program ended up integrated into the MIT System in Artwork, Tradition, and Know-how (ACT). The upshot of this institutional shift is that, unfortunately, CAVS disappeared. In 2018, an indifferently curated and disappointing show at the MIT Museum — Celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the MIT Centre for Sophisticated Visual Experiments at the MIT Museum — lacked thoughtful historic context as the chosen will work competed in opposition to each and every other for awareness. To some extent, the historical past of CAVS can now be surveyed by using the C.A.V.S. Particular Assortment at MIT. Sadly, this is a minimal, narrowly selected group of performs and papers that leaves out important innovative contributions by a variety of other CAVS artists. Oddly, Piene’s fantastic sketchbooks are not aspect of the CAVS Unique Selection. MIT’s loss is Harvard’s gain.


Mark Favermann is an city designer specializing in strategic placemaking, civic branding, streetscapes, and general public artwork. An award-winning general public artist, he makes purposeful public artwork as civic style. The designer of the renovated Coolidge Corner Theatre, he is structure marketing consultant to the Massachusetts Downtown Initiative System and, considering the fact that 2002 has been a design specialist to the Boston Red Sox. Crafting about urbanism, architecture, style and good arts, Mark is contributing editor of The Arts Fuse.