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Otto Piene

Otto Piene

Otto Piene (18 April 1928 – 17 July 2014) was a German artist specializing in kinetic and technology-based art. He lived and worked in Düsseldorf; Cambridge, Massachusetts; and Groton, Massachusetts.

Otto Piene was born in 1928 in Bad Laasphe and was raised in Lübbecke. Between 1949 and 1953 he studied painting and art education at the Academy of Art in Munich and the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf. He was lecturer at the Fashion Institute in Düsseldorf. From 1952 to 1957 he studied philosophy at the University of Cologne.

He was a Visiting Professor at the University of Pennsylvania beginning in 1964. From 1968 to 1971, he was the first Fellow of the MIT Center for Advanced Visual Studies (CAVS), founded by György Kepes. In 1972, he became a Professor of Environmental Art at MIT. In 1974 he succeeded Kepes as director of the CAVS, in which position he served until September 1, 1993.

Piene and Heinz Mack founded the group ZERO in 1957. This group consisted of artists who wanted to redefine art after World War II. By the 1960s they were internationally known, especially in Japan, Americas, and throughout Europe. Members of the group included Piero Manzoni, Yves Klein, Jean Tinguely, and Lucio Fontana. Piene and Mack also published ZERO Magazine from 1957 to 1967.

With Günther Uecker, Heinz Mack and Mattijs Visser he founded in 2008 the international ZERO foundation. The foundation has the ZERO archives from the three Düsseldorfer artists as well as documents and photos from other related artists.

Piene died on July 17, 2014 while in a taxi on his way to continue preparations for a "Sky Art Event" at Neue Nationalgalerie. His survivors included his wife, the former Elizabeth Goldring, a poet and artist who also worked on Centerbeam, as well as four children, a stepdaughter and five grandchildren.

In 1957, Piene and Heinz Mack founded the group ZERO. In 1961, Günther Uecker joined the group. In 1957 Piene developed the Grid Picture, a type of stencilled painting made from half-tone screens with regularly arranged points in single colours (yellow, silver, white or gold), for example Pure Energy (1958; New York, MOMA). Piene's work then developed in a variety of forms. The Lichtballette ("light ballet") (from 1959) were a development of the Grid Pictures: light from moving torches was projected through grids, thus extending and stimulating the viewer's perception of space. This series of works is inspired by László Moholy-Nagy's Light Space Modulator (1930) and Fernand Léger's Ballet Mécanique (1924).

Also in 1959, the combination of these grids with sources of fire (candles, gas-burners) produced smoke-traces and fire paintings, in which the paint was burnt. Piene created these Rauchbilder ("smoke pictures") as a reference to elementary natural energies. In the "fire paintings", he lightly burned a layer of solvent on pigmented paper, developing organic forms from the remnant, or the soot. Throughout the remainder of his career he continued the practice of making "smoke pictures". Fire and smoke (their traces) are important elements in these pictures. Silver Fire from 1973, in the collection of the Honolulu Museum of Art, is an example of a "smoke picture". He also experimented with multimedia combinations. In 1963, together with Günther Uecker and Heinz Mack, he became a spokesman of Neuen Idealismus ("the new idealism"). Piene is also noted for having explored new uses for broadcast television. In 1968, along with Aldo Tambellini, he produced Black Gate Cologne, which is cited as one of the first television programs to have been produced by experimental visual artists.

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Otto Piene Artworks
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