The Rise & Demise of Otto Piene’s Black Stacks Helium Sculpture (1976)


I was driving on an almost deserted street
in southeast Minneapolis in the early afternoon on October 30, 1976 when there appeared before
me, four, gigantic, red, streamer-like things swaying above four smokestacks. I pulled over and watched them for a moment. They seemed suspended in mid-air. I found out later they were balloons created
by artist Otto Piene for the Walker Art Center. Now I have read that vandals destroyed three
of them. How sad. Piene can take pride in knowing he brought
this observer much joy for a few brief moments. Robin Lang
Minneapolis, Minnesota October 22nd, 1976. For Immediate Release. The public is invited to observe the installation
of an outdoor inflatable sculpture beginning at 9 am on Saturday, October 30. Titled “Black Stacks Helium Sculpture,” this
environmental work was created by artist Otto Piene and commissioned by Walker Art Center
in conjunction with the exhibition The River: Images of the Mississippi. Art basically uses two kinds of scale, intimate
and monumental. More attention should be paid to monumental
scale—sky scale—in times when mankind proliferates and space expands and everybody
realizes how big the cosmos is. Otto Piene (Gun shots) I feel really saddened to learn of the damage
done to the river sculpture attached to the NSP smoke stacks. I discovered I was able to see them from my
apartment window and it was just a delight for me to watch the changing, joyful, graceful
movements. I hope the person responsible can be held
accountable and I feel sad and angry that they were not able to find pleasure in such
a delightful piece of sculpture. Dear Otto,
It’s just possible that having your spectacular work shot down may have hastened its immortalization
process. We have been receiving sympathy cards, and
letters have appeared on the editorial pages concerning its beauty and decrying the vandalism
that brought its early demise—makes the whole thing quite wistful. Martin Friedman
Walker Art Center Director

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