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(1928 – 2014), Germany

Otto Piene Biography

Otto Piene studied art at the Hochschule für Bildenden Künste in Munich and the Staatliche Kunstakademie in Düsseldorf and then philosophy at Cologne University, graduating in 1957. In the same year he 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). The vibrating pattern and slight shadow in these works, which were first shown in September 1957 at an evening exhibition in Piene’s studio in Düsseldorf seemed to take the play of light itself as their theme. Their objectivity lay in their lack of any subjective painterly gestures.

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The connection between art, nature and technology remained the goal of Piene’s work, first of all within the Zero group and then, from 1974, as the successor to György Kepes as director of the Center for Advanced Visual Studies at Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, MA. There Piene's work developed in a variety of forms. The Light Ballets (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. At the same time the combination of these grids with sources of fire (candles, gas-burners) produced smoke-traces and fire paintings, in which the paint was burnt. From 1962 he produced the Black Sun paintings and the Fauna and Flora paintings, which again make explicit reference to the theme of nature. This led in 1967 to Piene’s involvement with 'Sky Art', a term he coined in 1969, which allowed him to use landscape and cities themselves as the focal point of his work. In 1972 he produced the Olympic Rainbow for the XX Olympiad in Munich, made up of five differently coloured helium-filled polythene tubes, each one 600 m long.

From 1998 onwards he developed immersive light rooms, utilising projections to alternate light intensity, colour and form for various museums such as the Kunsthalle Bremen. In 2008, Otto Piene founded the international ZERO foundation with Günther Uecker, Heinz Mack and Mattijs Visser. The foundation houses the ZERO group archives from the three Düsseldorfer artists as well as documents and photos from other related artists that include: Lucio Fontana, Yves Klein and Jean Tinguely.

In 1996, Otto Piene received one of the four annual prizes for artists awarded by the American Academy of Arts and Letters. His works are in numerous museum collections around the world, among them 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 Georges Pompidou in Paris.

In 2014, the artist was represented in a major exhibition at the Guggenheim in New York, ZERO: Countdown to Tomorrow, 1950s–60s, the first large-scale historical survey in the United States dedicated to the German artists' group Zero (1957–66). The exhibition the travelled to the Martin-Gropius-Bau, Berlin and then onto the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam in 2015.

Otto Piene Featured Artworks

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Rauchzeichnung by Otto Piene contemporary artwork
Otto PieneRauchzeichnung, 1959Smoke drawing on cardboard
14.5 x 10.5 cm
Beck & Eggeling International Fine Art Contact Gallery
Feuergouache by Otto Piene contemporary artwork
Otto PieneFeuergouache, 1962Gouache, pigment and fire on paper
20.2 x 24 cm
Beck & Eggeling International Fine Art Contact Gallery
Untitled by Otto Piene contemporary artwork
Otto PieneUntitled, 1967Oil, fire and smoke on cardboard
70 x 95 cm
Galerie Krinzinger Contact Gallery
Luftbild 10 by Otto Piene contemporary artwork
Otto PieneLuftbild 10, 2012Gold and enamel on clay
68 x 48 x 3 cm
Galerie Krinzinger Contact Gallery
Feuerorgel by Otto Piene contemporary artwork
Otto PieneFeuerorgel, 1972Oil, fire and smoke on cardboard
100 x 70 cm
Galerie Krinzinger Contact Gallery
Red Sundew 2 by Otto Piene contemporary artwork
Otto PieneRed Sundew 2, 1970Red silk, polyethelene, electric fans
302 x 560 x 122 cm
Sprüth Magers Enquire
Goldregen by Otto Piene contemporary artwork
Otto PieneGoldregen, 2014Gold glaze on clay
63 x 63 x 3 cm
Sprüth Magers Enquire
Ghost (Red) by Otto Piene contemporary artwork
Otto PieneGhost (Red), 1966/2014Glass. light bulbs, metal base and timber
200 x 60 cm
Sprüth Magers Enquire

Otto Piene Recent Exhibitions

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Contemporary art exhibition, Group Exhibition, 25 Years of Passion at Beck & Eggeling International Fine Art, Düsseldorf
Closed
2 April–11 May 2019 Group Exhibition 25 Years of Passion Beck & Eggeling International Fine ArtDüsseldorf
Contemporary art exhibition, Otto Piene, Otto Piene at Sprüth Magers, Berlin
Closed
1 February–6 April 2019 Otto Piene Sprüth MagersBerlin
Contemporary art exhibition, Group Exhibition, Thank you for the Flowers at Beck & Eggeling International Fine Art, Düsseldorf
Closed
6 July–1 September 2018 Group Exhibition Thank you for the Flowers Beck & Eggeling International Fine ArtDüsseldorf

Otto Piene Represented By

Sprüth Magers contemporary art gallery in Berlin, Germany Sprüth Magers Berlin, London, Los Angeles

Otto Piene In Ocula Magazine

On The Autobahn: A Report From North Rhine-Westphalia Ocula Feature On The Autobahn: A Report From North Rhine-Westphalia By Stephanie Bailey, North Rhine-Westphalia

Project 25/25/25 is a quintessentially “NRW” affair. Celebrating 25 Years of the Arts Foundation North Rhine-Westphalia (Kunstiftung NRW), this expansive exhibition—which started in 2014 and will continue into 2015—pairs 25 artists with a constellation of 25 municipal museums spread out over a vast territory that makes up...

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Otto Piene In Related Press

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Hobart's Museum of Old and New Art steps back in time with its playful new exhibition Zero Related Press Hobart's Museum of Old and New Art steps back in time with its playful new exhibition Zero 27 June 2018, ABC News

One of the most striking works in MONA's new exhibition, Zero, consists of a black wall covered in a meticulous grid of identical clear plastic bags filled with water. Curator Mattijs Visser cheerfully points out that it could be made at home. This observation is interrupted by the sound of smashing glass from the gallery next door. In it...

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Zero reimagined: a new take on an old artistic vision Related Press Zero reimagined: a new take on an old artistic vision 16 June 2018, The Guardian

When Otto Piene was a teenager in Germany during the second world war, German citizens were ordered to black out windows so allied aircraft couldn't see them. It was impossible to black them out entirely, though, and during the day the sun would shine through tiny cracks and chinks in the window coverings. Years later, when the violence and...

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Surprises and Innovations Abound at Art Basel Related Press Surprises and Innovations Abound at Art Basel 15 June 2017, The New York Times

Marc Spiegler, the global director of Art Basel, said Hong Kong has its galleries, while Miami is known for its private collections and Basel for its museums. For all the obvious differences among these cities, when the Art Basel fair visits them each year, it anchors its shows in the same way, with a large showcase of presentations by...

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Glasgow International festival tackles demise of UK's once-great, heavy industries Related Press Glasgow International festival tackles demise of UK's once-great, heavy industries 12 April 2016, The Art Newspaper

Glasgow International, the biennial contemporary art festival which opens its seventh edition today (until 25 April), focuses on a particularly potent theme in today’s economic climate: the demise of heavy industry, and how cultural spaces have sprung up in spaces in the Scottish city once occupied by major shipbuilding, textiles and...

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