Otto Piene

Otto Piene in the installation Red Sundew 2 at the Honolulu Academy of the Arts, 1970
© Otto Piene Estate / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn

 

Otto Piene’s (1928–2014) prodigious oeuvre includes his well-known smoke and fire paintings, “light ballet” installations and “Sky Art” events along with kinetic sculptures, ceramics, screen-prints and architectural interventions. Characterized by a combination of art and technology, his work demands that viewers play an active role in the artwork. A keen philosophical thinker, Piene also wrote a number of essays about art and perception.         

 

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Piene began his career as a painter of abstract works that broke forcefully with the painterly gesture. The artist’s Grid Paintings (1957), for example, find him texturing surfaces by painting over self-embossed punch cards made of cardboard and metal. The pictures forgo content to embrace the physicality of light, its oscillations and vibrations. Piene’s first works to deliberately incorporate smoke appeared in 1959. Created by swinging a fire source near perforated, grid-like templates, the resulting pictures hover between chance and intention as chemical reactions in the pigment and fixative become elements of the overall visual composition. In a further step he set fire to the fixative to produce an eruptive efflorescence, or floral veils of various hues. Fascinated by their play of light and color, the artist would continue to produce smoke and fire paintings throughout his life.

Piene’s pictures proved seminal for the aesthetic and intellectual agenda adopted by the ZERO group, a movement he and Heinz Mack founded in 1957 to mark a new beginning for postwar European art. Other touchstones include the artist’s kinetic light objects, for which he transformed such basic geometric shapes as cubes, spheres, and cylinders into complex electronic light sources with multiple light bulbs. These objects followed a precisely timed choreography to project painting-like shadow-and-light effects on the surrounding walls. The artist would eventually apply the same approach to expansive indoor installations that resembled spherical, cosmological universes. Pieces including The Proliferation of the Sun (1966–67) or Electronic Light Ballet (1969) bring these universes to life with performative and auditory elements. Staged as light dances, they immerse the viewer in an active, live art reminiscent of theater or ballet performances.

Piene began developing what he called “Sky Art” in 1968, around the time he relocated to Boston for a position as Professor of Environmental Art at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), where between 1974 and 1993 he also served as director of the influential Center for Advanced Visual Studies (CAVS). The projects—which were to be understood as a kind of Land Art—incorporated ephemeral, helium-filled sculptures that appeared to free themselves from the Earth’s gravity. They could involve illuminated, tube-like air structures executed as “sky drawings”—Light Line Experiment (1968), for instance—or the release of thousands of silver balloons grouped in bunches, as in Silver Balloon Event (1969). His work for the closing ceremony of the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich illuminated the night sky with a gigantic balloon rainbow.

Otto Piene’s “Sky Art” events were usually communal experiences that drew a large audience. They underscore an emphatic ritual dimension—a defining facet in all of the artist’s work. Piene’s art was conceived as an aesthetic event, but always as a social one as well. The viewer and their perception form the crucial focal point of his oeuvre. His insistent inclusion of the viewer in the completion of the artwork evoke what can only be called a moment of utopia.

 

Otto Piene: Die Sonne kommt näher
Museum Haus Konstruktiv, Zurich, February 6–September 13, 2020
Video: Marcel und Marc Schwarz / schwarpictures.com / @schwarz3471

Works
Otto Piene Estate
Otto Piene
Lightroom with Mönchengladbach Wall, 1963–2013

Otto Piene
Lightroom with Mönchengladbach Wall, 1963–2013
Cardboard, wood, metal, motor, light
Dimensions variable

More views
Otto Piene Estate
Otto Piene
Lightroom with Schoeller Wall, 1999–2000

Otto Piene
Lightroom with Schoeller Wall, 1999–2000
Cardboard, wood, metal, motor, light
ca. 220 × 521 × 443 cm
approx. 86 5/8 × 205 1/8 × 174 3/8 inches

More views
Otto Piene Estate
Otto Piene
Japanese, 1974–75

Otto Piene
Japanese, 1974–75
Oil, acrylic laquer and soot on canvas
214 × 153 cm
84 1/4 × 60 1/4 inches

More views
Otto Piene Estate
Otto Piene
Blue Light Ghost, 2014

Otto Piene
Blue Light Ghosts, 2014
Glass, light bulbs, metal base and timer
Each height 200 cm / ø 60 cm
Each height 78 3/4 / ø 23 5/8 inches

More views
Otto Piene Estate
Otto Piene
Submarine, 1955

Otto Piene
Submarine, 1955
Oil on canvas
100 × 140 cm
39 3/8 × 55 1/8 inches

More views
Otto Piene Estate
Otto Piene
Die Geburt des Regenbogens, 1966

Otto Piene
Die Geburt des Regenbogens, 1966
Oil, acrylic laquer and soot on canvas
80.3 × 100.5 cm
31 5/8 × 39 5/8 inches

More views
Otto Piene Estate
Otto Piene
Untitled (Yellow), 1984

Otto Piene
Untitled (Yellow), 1984
Oil, acrylic laquer and soot on canvas
200 × 200 cm
78 3/4 × 78 3/4 inches

More views
Otto Piene Estate
Otto Piene
Red Sundew 2, 1970

Otto Piene
Red Sundew 2, 1970
Spinnaker cloth, polyethylene, blower, timer
302 × 560 × 122 cm
119 × 220 1/2 × 48 inches

More views
Otto Piene Estate
Otto Piene
Brussels Flower, 1977/1978

Otto Piene
Brussels Flower, 1977/1978
Spinnaker cloth, polyethylene, blower, timer
ø 1000 cm
ø 393 3/4 inches
SKYDANCE/SKYTIME, installation view, Guggenheim Museum, New York, June 1984

Otto Piene Estate
Otto Piene
Blue Star Linz, 1980

Otto Piene
Blue Star Linz, 1980
Spinnaker cloth, polyethylene, blower, timer
ø 1200 cm
ø 472 3/8 inches

More views
Otto Piene Estate
Otto Piene
Untitled (zero), 1966

Otto Piene
Untitled (zero), 1966
Felt pen on paper
54.1 × 39.9 cm (framed)
21 1/4 × 15 3/4 inches (framed)

Otto Piene Estate
Otto Piene
Goldregen, 2014

Otto Piene
Goldregen, 2014
Gold glaze on clay
63 × 63 × 3 cm
24 7/8 × 24 7/8 × 1 1/8 inches

More views
Otto Piene Estate
Otto Piene
Zur Geschichte des Lichts, 1959

Otto Piene
Zur Geschichte des Lichts, 1959
Oil on canvas
77 × 98 cm
30 1/4 × 38 5/8 inches

More views
Details
Otto Piene Estate

Otto Piene
Lightroom with Mönchengladbach Wall, 1963–2013
Cardboard, wood, metal, motor, light
Dimensions variable

Otto Piene
Lightroom with Mönchengladbach Wall, 1963–2013
Otto Piene Estate
Otto Piene Estate

Otto Piene
Lightroom with Mönchengladbach Wall, 1963–2013


Otto Piene Estate
Otto Piene Estate

Otto Piene
Lightroom with Mönchengladbach Wall, 1963–2013

Otto Piene
Lightroom with Mönchengladbach Wall, 1963–2013
Otto Piene Estate
Otto Piene Estate

Otto Piene
Lightroom with Mönchengladbach Wall, 1963–2013

Otto Piene
Lightroom with Mönchengladbach Wall, 1963–2013
Otto Piene Estate
Otto Piene Estate

Otto Piene
Lightroom with Mönchengladbach Wall, 1963–2013

Otto Piene
Lightroom with Mönchengladbach Wall, 1963–2013
Otto Piene Estate

Otto Piene
Lightroom with Schoeller Wall, 1999–2000
Cardboard, wood, metal, motor, light
ca. 220 × 521 × 443 cm
approx. 86 5/8 × 205 1/8 × 174 3/8 inches

Otto Piene
Lightroom with Schoeller Wall, 1999–2000
Otto Piene Estate
Otto Piene Estate

Otto Piene
Lightroom with Schoeller Wall, 1999–2000

Otto Piene
Lightroom with Schoeller Wall, 1999–2000
Otto Piene Estate
Otto Piene Estate

Otto Piene
Lightroom with Schoeller Wall, 1999–2000 (detail)

Otto Piene
Lightroom with Schoeller Wall, 1999–2000
Otto Piene Estate

Otto Piene
Japanese, 1974–75
Oil, acrylic laquer and soot on canvas
214 × 153 cm
84 1/4 × 60 1/4 inches

Otto Piene
Japanese, 1974–75
Otto Piene Estate
Otto Piene Estate

Otto Piene
Japanese, 1974–75 (detail)

Otto Piene
Japanese, 1974–75
Otto Piene Estate
Otto Piene Estate

Otto Piene
Japanese, 1974–75 (detail)

Otto Piene
Japanese, 1974–75
Otto Piene Estate

Otto Piene
Blue Light Ghosts, 2014
Glass, light bulbs, metal base and timer
Each height 200 cm / ø 60 cm
Each height 78 3/4 / ø 23 5/8 inches

Otto Piene
Blue Light Ghost, 2014
Otto Piene Estate
Otto Piene Estate

Otto Piene
Blue Light Ghost, 2014

Otto Piene
Blue Light Ghost, 2014
Otto Piene Estate
Otto Piene Estate

Otto Piene
Blue Light Ghost, 2014 (detail)

Otto Piene
Blue Light Ghost, 2014
Otto Piene Estate
Otto Piene Estate

Otto Piene
Blue Light Ghost, 2014 (detail)

Otto Piene
Blue Light Ghost, 2014
Otto Piene Estate
Otto Piene Estate

Otto Piene
Blue Light Ghosts, 2014
Die Sonne kommt näher, installation view, Museum Haus Konstruktiv, Zurich, 2020
Photo: Stefan Altenburger

Otto Piene
Blue Light Ghost, 2014
Otto Piene Estate

Otto Piene
Submarine, 1955
Oil on canvas
100 × 140 cm
39 3/8 × 55 1/8 inches

Otto Piene
Submarine, 1955
Otto Piene Estate
Otto Piene Estate

Otto Piene
Submarine, 1955 (detail)

Otto Piene
Submarine, 1955
Otto Piene Estate
Otto Piene Estate

Otto Piene
Submarine, 1955 (detail)

Otto Piene
Submarine, 1955
Otto Piene Estate

Otto Piene
Die Geburt des Regenbogens, 1966
Oil, acrylic laquer and soot on canvas
80.3 × 100.5 cm
31 5/8 × 39 5/8 inches

Otto Piene
Die Geburt des Regenbogens, 1966
Otto Piene Estate
Otto Piene Estate

Otto Piene
Die Geburt des Regenbogens, 1966 (detail)

Otto Piene
Die Geburt des Regenbogens, 1966
Otto Piene Estate

Otto Piene
Untitled (Yellow), 1984
Oil, acrylic laquer and soot on canvas
200 × 200 cm
78 3/4 × 78 3/4 inches

Otto Piene
Untitled (Yellow), 1984
Otto Piene Estate
Otto Piene Estate

Otto Piene
Untitled (Yellow), 1984 (detail)

Otto Piene
Untitled (Yellow), 1984
Otto Piene Estate

Otto Piene
Red Sundew 2, 1970
Spinnaker cloth, polyethylene, blower, timer
302 × 560 × 122 cm
119 × 220 1/2 × 48 inches

Otto Piene
Red Sundew 2, 1970
Otto Piene Estate
Otto Piene Estate

Otto Piene
Red Sundew 2, 1970

Otto Piene
Red Sundew 2, 1970
Otto Piene Estate
Otto Piene Estate

Otto Piene
Red Sundew 2, 1970

Otto Piene
Red Sundew 2, 1970
Otto Piene Estate
Otto Piene Estate

Otto Piene
Red Sundew 2, 1970 (detail)

Otto Piene
Red Sundew 2, 1970
Otto Piene Estate
Otto Piene Estate

Otto Piene
Red Sundew 2
Otto Piene in the installation Red Sundew 2 at the Honululu Academy of the Arts, 1970

Otto Piene
Red Sundew 2, Otto Piene in the installation Red Sundew 2 at the Honululu Academy of the Arts, 1970
Otto Piene Estate

Otto Piene
Brussels Flower, 1977/1978
Spinnaker cloth, polyethylene, blower, timer
ø 1000 cm
ø 393 3/4 inches
SKYDANCE/SKYTIME, installation view, Guggenheim Museum, New York, June 1984

Otto Piene
Brussels Flower, 1977/1978
Otto Piene Estate

Otto Piene
Blue Star Linz, 1980
Spinnaker cloth, polyethylene, blower, timer
ø 1200 cm
ø 472 3/8 inches

Otto Piene
Blue Star Linz, 1980
Otto Piene Estate
Otto Piene Estate

Otto Piene
Blue Star Linz, 1980
Sky Art Conference '81, installation view, Sky Event at CAVS/MIT, Briggs Field, Cambridge, MA, 1981

Otto Piene
Blue Star Linz, 1980
Otto Piene Estate
Otto Piene Estate

Otto Piene
Blue Star Linz, 1980
Sky Art Conference '81, installation view, Sky Event at CAVS/MIT, Briggs Field, Cambridge, MA, 1981

Otto Piene
Blue Star Linz, 1980
Otto Piene Estate
Otto Piene Estate

Otto Piene
Blue Star Linz, 1980
Sky Art Conference '81, installation view, Sky Event at CAVS/MIT, Briggs Field, Cambridge, MA, 1981

Otto Piene
Blue Star Linz, 1980
Otto Piene Estate
Otto Piene Estate

Otto Piene
Blue Star Linz, 1980
Installation view, re-opening of the Alte Oper Frankfurt, Frankfurt am Main, 1981
Photo: Dietmar Löhre

Otto Piene
Blue Star Linz, 1980
Otto Piene Estate

Otto Piene
Untitled (zero), 1966
Felt pen on paper
54.1 × 39.9 cm (framed)
21 1/4 × 15 3/4 inches (framed)

Otto Piene
Untitled (zero), 1966
Otto Piene Estate

Otto Piene
Goldregen, 2014
Gold glaze on clay
63 × 63 × 3 cm
24 7/8 × 24 7/8 × 1 1/8 inches

Otto Piene
Goldregen, 2014
Otto Piene Estate
Otto Piene Estate

Otto Piene
Goldregen, 2014 (detail)

Otto Piene
Goldregen, 2014
Otto Piene Estate

Otto Piene
Zur Geschichte des Lichts, 1959
Oil on canvas
77 × 98 cm
30 1/4 × 38 5/8 inches

Otto Piene
Zur Geschichte des Lichts, 1959
Otto Piene Estate
Otto Piene Estate

Otto Piene
Zur Geschichte des Lichts, 1959 (detail)

Otto Piene
Zur Geschichte des Lichts, 1959
Otto Piene Estate
Otto Piene Estate

Otto Piene
Zur Geschichte des Lichts, 1959 (detail)

Otto Piene
Zur Geschichte des Lichts, 1959
Details
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Current and Upcoming
Otto Piene Estate
Otto Piene, Lightroom with Mönchengladbach Wall, 1963–2013. Photo: Timo Ohler, © Otto Piene Estate / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2020

The Sky as a Studio. Yves Klein and his contemporaries
Centre Pompidou-Metz, Metz
July 18, 2020–February 1, 2021

Centre Pompidou-Metz dedicates an ambitious exhibition to Yves Klein, a major figure of the European post-war artistic scene. Well-known for his blue monochromes, he dialogued with numerous European artists belonging to the NUL group in the Netherlands and to the ZERO group in Germany. Visitors will (re)discover the artist’s practices through the multiple international exchanges he had.

Link
Exhibitions at Sprüth Magers

Otto Piene
Light Ballet
April 29–June 10, 2017
Berlin

Otto Piene’s use of light developed in the late 1950s with works utilising earlier experiments of printing onto canvas using punctured screens of many small holes, producing a grid of small, elevated pigment dots on the surface. These perforated ‘raster sieves’ were used in early works as hand-held tools through which to shine light from candles. This rudimentary apparatus soon developed into more complex means in 1960-61, employing metal screens, discs, motors, timers, and rotating electric lights, coming to a theatrical climax in room size installations. A selection of these elements will be presented in Sprüth Magers collaboration with the Otto Piene Estate, his first exhibition with the gallery, taking the form of a ‘Light Ballet’.

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Otto Piene Estate
Press

Otto Piene obituary
The Guardian, July 24, 2014

Otto Piene, German Artist of New Modes, Dies at 85
The New York Times, article by Bruce Weber, July 18, 2014

3 Men and a Posse, Chasing Newness
The New York Times, article by Roberta Smith, October 9, 2014

Light, Energy, Life: Otto Piene 85
Mousse, feature by Uta Meta Bauer and Fender Schrade, April – May 2013

Otto Piene: Sky and Beyond
Art New England, article by Joseph D. Ketner, April – May 2010

From Zero to Sky Art / de Zero au Sky Art.
Art Press, interview by Annick Bureaud, April 2006

Sky, Scale and Technology in Art
Leonardo, Otto Piene and Robert Russett, 1986

Biography

Otto Piene (1928–2014). Selected solo exhibitions include Museum Haus Konstruktiv, Zurich (2020), Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art (2015), Neue Nationalgalerie, Berlin (2014), ZKM Museum Für Neue Kunst, Karlsruhe (2013), and MIT List Visual Arts Center, Cambridge (2011). Selected group exhibitions include Yayoi Kusama Museum, Tokyo (2020), Gropius Bau, Berlin (2015), The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York (2014), Venice Biennale (1971, 1967), and Documenta 6, 3 and 2 (1977, 1964, 1959).

Education
1964 Artist-in-residence, University of Pennsylvania
1953–57 University of Cologne
1950–53 Staatliche Kunstakademie, Dusseldorf
1948–50 Blocherer Art School and the Academy of Art, Munich
Teaching
1974–93 Director, Center for Advanced Visual Studies (CAVS) at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (M.I.T.), Cambridge, MA
1972–74 Professor of Visual Design for Environmental Art, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (M.I.T.), Cambridge, MA
Awards, Grants and Fellowships
2014 German Light Art award, Robert Simon Art Foundation, Celle
2013 Max-Beckmann - Prize of the city of Frankfurt
2003 UNESCO Joan Miro Medal, presented at the Bremen Kunsthalle
Leonardo da Vinci World Art Prize from Consejo Cultural Mundial of Mexico City
1996 Sculpture Prize of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, New York
1994 Honorary doctorate by the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, Maryland
1976 Prize, International Graphics Biennale, Frederikstad
1972 Prize of the National Museum of Modern art, The Eighth International Biennial Exhibition of Prints in Tokyo
1970 Prize, Ile Exposition International de Dessins Originaux, Rijeka
1969 Prize, International Exhibitions of Graphic Art, Ljubljana
1968 Konrad von Soest Prize, Muenster
1967 Prize, International Exhibitions of Graphic Art, Ljubljana
1963 Grand Prize for Group ZERO, IV Biennale Internazionale d’Arte, San Marino
1959 Prize, Deutsche Kunst, Baden-Baden
Public Collections
Albertina, Vienna
Berardo Museum, Lisbon
Busch-Reisinger Museum, Boston
Guggenheim Museum, Abu Dhabi
Kunsthalle Bremen
Kunsthalle Weishaupt, Ulm
Kunsthaus Zürich, Zurich
Kunstmuseum Bonn
List Visual Arts Center (LVAC), Cambridge, MA
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
Musée National d’Art Moderne, Centre George Pompidou, Paris
Musées Royaux des Beaux Arts, Brussels
MUSEION - Museum für moderne und zeitgenössische Kunst, Bozen
Museum Folkwang, Essen
Museum Ludwig, Cologne
National Gallery of Canada - Musée des beaux-arts du Canada, Ottawa
National Museum of Modern Art Tokyo
Nationalgalerie, Berlin
Smithsonian American Art Museum (SAAM), Washington
Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam
Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art TMOCA
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Zentrum für Kunst und Medientechnologie ZKM, Karlsruhe
ZERO Foundation, Dusseldorf