Otto Piene’s “Grand Rapids Carousel” at Northwestern Arts Circle Celebration

“He was a developer and a discoverer, so many of his ideas are relevant today, from project-oriented work, to discussion-led thinking, to the ephemeral; all of that is now commonplace. That is a central contribution of his work.” – Joachim Jäger, New York Times

Otto Piene, Sky Art Event, Berlin, July 19, 2014.  Retrospective and installation at Nationalgalerie, Berlin. Photo courtesy of Neue Nationalgalerie.


Saturday, June 4th
Inflation of Otto Piene’s: Grand Rapids Carousel
9AM, Arts Green, North Lawn (Sculpture on view all day.)
Full schedule of Arts Circle Celebration events

Otto Piene (1928-2014) was a German kinetic artist and co-founder of the materially focused ZERO avant-garde group. A pioneer of media art, Piene worked with light and motion. He is best known for his “Sky Art” projects, harnessing light for use in outdoor settings. Today, his works can be found in museum collections around the world, including the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, the National Museum of Modern Art in Tokyo, the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam and the Centre Pompidou in Paris.  Piene reached worldwide audiences in 1972 when his Olympic Rainbow lit up the night sky at the closing ceremony of the Munich Olympic Games, a symbol of hope after the terror-attack on the event.

With Sky Art, Piene wanted to take back the heavens for art. ‘Why do we have no exhibitions in the sky?’ he wrote in 1961. ‘Up to now we have left it up to war to light up the sky.’ “Sky Art offered freedom-from gravity, from spiritual darkness, from ‘the ulcers of memory, the superfluities of time past, and the suppurations of the psyche.’ Through freedom comes enlightenment: Sky Art would lead humankind to utopia.” writes art historian Joan Rothfuss in her Feast of Astonishments exhibition essay “Sky Kiss.”

Otto Piene, Olympic Rainbow (1972), sculpture above the stadium at the 1972 Olympic statium.  Photo courtesy La Regal du Jeu Magazine.

For Northwestern University’s Arts Circle Celebration, the Block Museum of Art will offer a rare opportunity to witness the inflating of Otto Piene’s “Grand Rapids Carousel,” a 40-foot-long bright red sculpture, which features multiple human-like arms and legs. The inflatable was first exhibited at the Grand Rapids Art Museum and Arts Festival in 1979 and was featured in Charlotte Moorman’s 15th Annual Avant Garde Festival in 1980.

In May 2014,  Block Museum Director Lisa Corrin, Curator Corinne Granof and Associate Director of Collections, Dan Silverstein had the privilege of visiting the artist at his Massachusetts home.  There, the group met with Piene, his wife Elizabeth Goldring and studio assistant John Powell and got a sneak peak of the process of bringing the inflatable to life.

 “Much of what we did was spontaneous, and it was done in the spirit of friendship and, let’s say, shared values and friends…The shared interest, values, fascinations, impulses from nature, from science, from areas that are not typically considered artistic were very important.” – Otto Piene, BOULIN ARTINFO

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Otto Piene, Sky Art Event, Berlin, July 19, 2014 celebrating the artist’s life at Neue Nationalgalerie, Berlin. Photo courtesy Neue Nationalgalerie.




ac-logo copyThe Arts Circle is your one destination for the arts at Northwestern. Join us on the arts green on June 4th, 2016 for the Arts Circle Celebration – a free event that brings the arts together, featuring Trisha Brown Dance Company, Otto Piene’s Grand Rapids Carousel, Tea Project by Aaron Hughes & Amber Ginsburg, a Cello happening, special appearances by The Actors Gymnasium, and more!

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