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 Otto Piene  (1928 - 2014)

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Lived/Active: Massachusetts/Pennsylvania / Germany      Known for: light kinetics, illumination, abstract painting, teaching

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Ad Code: 2
Otto Piene
from Auction House Records.
Goldgold
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Following is The New York Times obituary of the artist.

Otto Piene, German Artist of New Modes, Dies at 85
By BRUCE WEBERJULY 18, 2014
 
Otto Piene, a German painter and sculptor known for his experiments in kinetic art and for working at the junction of art, nature and technology, died on Thursday in Berlin, where he was attending the opening of a retrospective of his work. He was 86 and had homes in Düsseldorf and Groton, Mass.

His death was confirmed by Joachim Jäger, head of the Neue Nationalgalerie in Berlin. The retrospective, “Otto Piene, More Sky,” opened there and at Deutsche Bank KunstHalle on Wednesday as a joint project devoted to honoring Mr. Piene’s influential role in postwar German art.

In 1957, along with Heinz Mack, Mr. Piene (pronounced PEEN-uh) founded the Zero Group, a collection of artists dedicated to redefining art in the aftermath of World War II. Through the mid-1960s the group attracted adherents from Japan and the Americas as well as Europe. Their work — to be celebrated in an exhibition at the Guggenheim Museum in New York this fall — anticipated developments in land art, Minimalism, Conceptual art and performance art.

Among other things, the Zero artists explored new modes of painting, including monochromes and unusual materials: Mr. Piene himself experimented with smoke, soot and burned paint. They employed light, open space and movement as rudiments of artworks and used technology to create artistic effects.

Mr. Piene’s work included mechanized light sculptures. In one work, Light Ballet, exhibited at a New York gallery in 1965, a roomful of aluminum spheres, bulb-studded globes and brass columns, illuminated in sequence, glowed and dimmed in an endless program, enveloping viewers in a pattern of oscilloscopic blips and racing shadows.

In an interview at the time, Mr. Piene said he had been fascinated with light from boyhood, when he began contemplating how far a candle could throw its light and cast its shadow. During World War II, he recalled, he found the tracers and searchlights that striped and dotted Germany’s night skies “hectically beautiful.”

“Light is my medium,” Mr. Piene said. “I hate objects that just stand there demanding interpretation. Previously, paintings and sculptures seemed to glow. Today they do glow; they are active. They don’t merely express something; they are something.”

In the late 1960s, Mr. Piene began creating projects in the air over public spaces, events he called sky art. These were collaborations with scientists, engineers and often large groups of volunteers in which he created inflatable tubes or other balloonlike shapes made of polythene or other plastic substances, filled them with helium and allowed them to float above buildings or landscapes, which became backdrops for artistic events unfolding in the sky.

Perhaps Mr. Piene’s best-known sky art was Olympic Rainbow, consisting of five different-colored polythene tubes, each more than 1,500 feet long, which were inflated and released to close the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich.

Mr. Pience was born in April 1928 in Bad Laasphe, east of Cologne and Düsseldorf in west central Germany. He studied painting and art education at the Academy of Art in Munich and the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf and philosophy at the University of Cologne.

He went to the United States in 1964 and taught at the University of Pennsylvania before becoming a fellow at the Center of Advanced Visual Studies, a provocative academic venture at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology that encouraged collaborations between artists and scientists. Mr. Piene became director of the center in 1974 and led it for nearly two decades, expanding its commitment to producing art for civic consumption. (The center has since merged with M.I.T.’s visual arts program.)

Under his leadership, the center created Centerbeam, a massive multimedia construction. Commissioned in 1977 by the Documenta 6 exhibition in Kassel, Germany, and later mounted on the National Mall in Washington, it involved 22 artists and a phalanx of scientists and engineers and featured laser-projected images on moving steam screens, solar-tracked holograms, a 144-foot water prism and helium-lifted sky sculptures.

In 1996, Mr. 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.

“He was a developer and a discoverer,” Mr. Jäger said. “So many of his ideas are relevant today, from project-oriented work, to discussion-led thinking, to the ephemeral; all of that is now commonplace. That is a central contribution of his work.”

Mr. Piene’s survivors include his wife, the former Elizabeth Goldring, a poet and artist who also worked on Centerbeam, as well as four children, a stepdaughter and four grandchildren.

After his death, Mr. Piene was praised by Germany’s minister of culture, Monika Gruetters.

“Many of his highly aesthetic works in public space were also a signal against the inhospitality of our cities,” Ms. Gruetters said in a statement. “By making light and movement a topic of many of his objects and installations, he pointed out new ways for the fine arts.”

Melissa Eddy contributed reporting from Berlin.


This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Otto Piene (born 18 April 1928) is a German artist, who lives and works today in Groton, Massachusetts and Düsseldorf, Germany.  Otto Piene was born 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 Gyorgy 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.

The University of Maryland, Baltimore County awarded Piene an honorary Doctor of Fine Arts in 1994.  In 1996, he received the Sculpture Prize of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, New York.

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.

In 1957, Piene and Heinz Mack founded the group ZERO.  In 1961, Günther Uecker joined the group.  Beginning in 1959, Piene created the works Lichtballette ("light ballet") and Rauchbilder ("smoke pictures"), referring to elementary natural energies. Piene exhibited works at Documenta in 1959, 1964 and 1977.

Otto Piene continues the practice of "smoke pictures" through today.  Fire and smoke (their traces) are important elements in these pictures.  He experimented also with multimedia combinations.  In 1963, together with Günther Uecker and Heinz Mack, he became spokesman of Neuen Idealismus ("the new idealism").  Piene is also noted for exploring 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 produced by experimental visual artists.

In addition, Piene arranged the German pavilion for the 1967 and 1971 Venice Biennales.  In 1985, he exhibited at the São Paulo Biennial.  For the closing of the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich, Piene created the sky work Olympic Rainbow.  He took a stab at industrial design in the 1970s with a 500-piece run of the upscale Suomi tableware by Timo Sarpaneva that Piene decorated for the German Rosenthal porcelain maker's Studio Linie.

Working as the director of the Center for Advanced Visual Studies (C.A.V.S.) at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Piene collaborated in the design of the kinetic sculpture performance Centerbeam, which was first exhibited in Kassel, Germany in 1977. The C.A.V.S. allowed artists to work using sophisticated techniques and scientific partnership, promoting a highly collaborative environment.

In 1978, Piene was commissioned by the Smithsonian Art Collectors Program to create a print to benefit the educational and cultural programs of the Smithsonian Associates.  The print was to commemorate a Washington, DC festival much like the 1977 exhibition in Kassel.  Three lithographs resulted, all titled, Centerbeam, one of which hangs in the ongoing exhibition, Graphic Eloquence, in the S. Dillon Ripley Center in the National Mall.

Source:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Otto_Piene

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