Vision of Television: Early Experimental Artists’ TV Broadcasts


Works by Otto Piene and Aldo Tambellini are included in the exhibition Vision of  Television presently at Emerson Urban Arts: Media Gallery (located at 25 Avery Street, Boston, MA and running through January 19, 2019).  The show highlights seminal works of video artists from the 50’s and 60’s.  All of the work involves the artists using and working with television. Central to the exhibition is Piene’s and Tambellini’s “Black Gate Cologne (1968)”.  The artists were given the television studio at WDR in Cologne, Germany and produced a two evening show which was edited into a 45 minute broadcast performance, the first television broadcast by artists.

Black Gate Cologne, a multi-media performance in two parts, began with Piene’s kinetic sculptures placed around the television studio, producing a magical display of lights. The audience sat on the floor as they did at the Black Gate Theater in New York.  During Otto’s section, a clear inflatable tube slowly inflated and the audience started to play with it as it filled the space. The bouncing and pushing and handling of the tube became a game that engaged the audience. Tambellini’s section followed with his hand-painted slides, videos, and film footage – including mass-media imagery of WWII, boxing matches, and news footage of the assassinations of Robert Kennedy and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. – as described by Tambellini: “Over twelve monitors were set out in the studio, half of them suspended from the ceiling, the others on various parts of the floor, plus one oscilloscope which produced images created by the sound coming from several speakers. There were four cameras located in different floor areas and one on a balcony. The studio became an environment as all of the monitors were filled with various images, including movies from Tambellini’s ‘Black Film Series’ and hand painted slides covering the entire studio.”

In the same exhibit, the performance of Black Gate Dusseldorf (Germany), a second performance done after Black Gate Cologne, for a live audience which was filmed and broadcast of German television.  Aldo Tambellini’s Black TV, the Grand Prix Winner of the 1968 Oberhausen Film Festival, and Black Spiral, a modified television set whose tube was altered to show all broadcast in spiral form rather than linear, was accomplished with help from engineers of the Bell Laboratory.

The exhibition was the idea of Joseph Ketner ll, who passed away before its opening.

“We are pleased to bring one of Joe’s last exhibits to life and to honor his work around the early development of artists’ involvement with television broadcasts during its nascent stage,” said Robert Sabal, Dean, Emerson College School of the Arts, who added that the exhibit also commemorates the 50th anniversary of landmark broadcasts by the two public broadcasting stations, WDR, Black Gate Cologneand  WGBH-BostonThe Medium is the Medium.

The Vision of Television exhibit opened on Thursday, November 15 and runs through Saturday, January 19, 2019 at the Emerson Urban Arts: Media Gallery, which is free and open to the public Wednesday through Saturday from 2 – 7 p.m. The gallery is located at 25 Avery Street, Boston, MA. Research for the exhibit was sponsored by Gerda Henkel Stiftung, Düsseldorf.