Occupying three Full floors of Sperone Westwater’s stylish Foster + Partners–designed building, this monographic show presents work by the seminal German artist Otto Piene, a cofounder of the Zero group. The pioneering Zero artists, who were active in the 1950s and ’60s, were known for such forms of experimental art as monochrome paintings made with fire and smoke, and sculptural works that employed light and movement. In 2014 they were celebrated in a critically acclaimed exhibition at the Guggenheim, which prominently featured Piene. In that exhibit were some gaps filled here by this pocket survey offering selections from the artist’s oeuvre, from its beginning in the 1950s right up to his death in the same year as the Guggenheim show.
Highlights include the inflatable, portal-like sculpture, Red Sundew 2, which bisects the main gallery, providing an entryway to the rest of the proceedings. The piece consists of a tarp stretched taut across the space, with pointy appendages resembling tentacles or bony fingers reaching through an opening. The air pumping into them from a nearby electric blower makes them bounce around as if they were alive.
Also included is Piene’s eight-part installation, Lichtballette, which turns the third-floor space into a mechanical version of Van Gogh’s Starry Night. Other standouts include a group of red-and-black canvases created with paint and fire. Beautifully crafted and purely abstract, these and the other works on view remain as fresh and meaningful now as the day they were made.