Monday, October 10, 2011


Otto Piene: Lichtballett

MIT List Visual Arts Center

October 21, 2011 - December 31, 2011

Otto Piene


The MIT List Visual Arts Center is pleased to announce an exhibition of the light-based sculptural work of Otto Piene. Otto Piene (b. 1928, Bad Laasphe, Germany) is a pioneering figure in multimedia and technology-based art. Known for his smoke and fire paintings and environmental “sky art,” Piene formed the influential Düsseldorf-based Group Zero with Heinz Mack in the late 1950s. Zero included artists such as Piero Manzoni, Yves Klein, Jean Tinguely, and Lucio Fontana. Piene was the first fellow of the MIT Center for Advanced Visual Studies (CAVS) in 1968, succeeding its founder György Kepes as director until retiring in 1994.


Otto Piene: Lichtballett highlights the artist’s exploration of light as an artistic and communicative medium. First produced using hand-operated lamps directed through perforated stencils, Piene’s Lichtballett (light ballet) performances of moving light became mechanized in the 1960s. The artist’s early light sculptures consisted of revolving lamps, grids, globes, and discs operated by electric switchboards, causing what he described as “the steady flow of unfurling and dimming, reappearing, and vanishing light.” These light machines evolved into kinetic sculptural environments of mechanized effects by the late 1960s.


Bringing together several of the artist's works from the 1960s and ‘70s with two new sculptures, the exhibition is synchronized into a choreographed installation. Electric Rose (1965) consists of a polished aluminum globe covered with neon light bulbs that emit light in four sequenced phases. The piece was featured in Piene’s first solo exhibition in the United States, Light Ballet, at the Howard Wise Gallery in New York in 1965. An important work in the permanent collection of the MIT List Visual Arts Center, the piece has undergone significant restoration by Denkhaus GmbH, Düsseldorf, and is now exhibited for the first time in over two decades. The conservation process, overseen by the artist and the MIT List, included a complete rewiring of the piece, removal of surface damage and dents, and replacement of the light fixtures and bulbs to exact specifications.


The exhibition also showcases several other significant early works alongside new sculptures. The two interior lamps of Light Ballet on Wheels (1965) continuously project light through a revolving disk. The sculpture Electric Anaconda (1965) is composed of seven black globes of decreasing diameter stacked in a column, the light climbing up until completely lit. Piene’s new works produced specifically for the exhibition, Lichtballett (2011), a site-specific wall sculpture, and One Cubic Meter of Light Black (2010–11), continue his decades-long investigation of technology and light phenomena.


An original score composed by the artist for his first light performances in the 1960s will accompany several special presentations of the light ballets throughout the duration of the exhibition. Otto Piene: Lichtballett will also be accompanied by a series of film screenings that document Piene’s work and the history and performance of the light ballets through several decades.


Otto Piene: Lichtballett is organized by João Ribas, Curator, MIT List Visual Arts Center.