Biography Otto Piene
Otto Ludwig Wilhelm Hermann Leonhard Piene was born on April 18, 1928, in Laasphe (Westphalia). In 1944, as a fifteen-year-old high school student, he was drafted into an anti-aircraft unit as a child soldier. Beginning in 1949, he studied fine art in Munich and then in 1950 at the Art Academy in Düsseldorf. In 1953 he also began studying philosophy and aesthetics at the University of Cologne.
Piene first came to prominence in 1958 together with Heinz Mack as cofounder of Zero in Düsseldorf (Günther Uecker joined the core group in 1961). In contrast to the darkness of the war and in opposition to the gestural painting of the time, Zero proclaimed a fresh start in art, oriented towards light, vibration, purity, energy, and the cosmos. ZERO soon became an influential network across Europe. What the ZERO artists, among them Jean Tinguely, had in common was an interest in visual perception, in the kinetic, and in a radical reduction of form. At this time, Piene developed early pioneering works like the Raster Paintings and Smoke Drawings, and he invented his Light Ballets.
Piene made further breakthroughs in his art in the late 1960s, becoming the first international fellow at MIT’s Center for Advanced Visual Studies (CAVS) before succeeding György Kepes as its director in 1974. This second major creative period is marked by his invention of Sky Art, with one highlight being the Olympic Rainbow, which took to the sky above the lake in the Olympic Park during the closing ceremony of the Munich Olympics in 1972.
With his interest in combining art and technology, Piene became a pioneer of media art; in 1968, for example, he collaborated with Aldo Tambellini to create Black Gate Cologne, the first ever art production for television. Another milestone in his artistic career was Centerbeam, a monumental intermedia work created collaboratively by CAVS for documenta 6 under Piene’s direction.
Otto Piene died on June 17, 2014, on the way to prepare for a Sky Event that would take place on the roof of the Neue Nationalgalerie in Berlin as part of the retrospective More Sky (Nationalgalerie ‒ Staatliche Museen zu Berlin and Deutsche Bank KunstHalle).