Otto Piene | i |
last name: Piene
first name: Otto
birthday: April 18, 1928
birth-place: Bad Laasphe (Germany)

Otto Piene is known as a pioneer of light, fire and sky art. He studied history of art and art education at the Munich Academy of Fine Arts and at the Düsseldorf Academy of Fine Arts, as well as philosophy at the University of Cologne, just like his friend Heinz Mack.

“In 1957 he cofounded with [”Heinz Mack":artist@765] Group Zero, an international assembly of artists interested in kinetic, environmental and elementary art, and went on to publish Zero magazines and to organize and design exhibitions and the first sky events under the Zero aegis." [MIT Tech Talk, 1993]

After working for several years as a Research Fellow at the architectural department of the MIT and Professor for Environmental Art, in 1974 he became the director of MIT’s Center for Advanced Visual Studies as the successor of Gyorgy Kepes. He retired from his position at the MIT in 1993. Working at the MIT’s CAVS offered Piene lots of possibilities in creating his art by allowing brilliant collaborations between artists and scientists. He is living in the United States since 1964, as he felt that there his ideas were getting accepted better and he had more possibilities to implement the technical details of his works. Today he lives and works in Groton, Massachusetts, and Düsseldorf.

“From the early 80s he combined the smoke and fire pictures with the grids of his ZERO period and from 1998 onwards he developed light rooms for various museums. such as the Kunsthalle Bremen.” [ZERO foundation, n. d.]


1948-1950 Studied at the Blocherschule and at the Hochschule für Bildende Künste in Munich and subsequently moved to the Staatliche Kunstakademie in Düsseldorf.
1950s At the end of the 50s Piene staged his archaic light ballet in Gallery Schmela in Düsseldorf and developed the first of his smoke drawings and his mechanised light sculptures, environments and fire pictures followed.
1955 From 1955 Piene created letter reliefs and perforated grid-light boxes. At the same time, together with Heinz Mack he organised the first evening exhibition in his studio in Gladbacher Straße in Düsseldorf and up until 1961 they edited ZERO magazine, issues 1 to 3.
1957 Took the state exam in philosophy at the University of Cologne and at the same time worked as an art teacher.
He developed the first of his grid pictures (monochrome vibration structures, that offered resistance to light).
1960s Over the course of the 60s Piene experimented with multimedia performances and with light, smoke, fire and air as well as helium sculptures.
1966 In the Kunsthalle Bonn the ZERO group had a last joint exhibition. Shortly afterwards they disbanded.
1962 Established, along with Mack and Uecker the first Salon de lumière on the occasion of the NUL exhibition at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam.
1964 In 1964 he took up his first visiting professorship at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.
1965 He moved to New York. At the same time he developed light sculptures for the new Stadttheater Bonn, which led to his garnering of commissions to the present day that connect art and architecture.
1968 In 1968 the first large Sky Event Light Line Experiment took place, using over 300 meters of illuminated poIyethylene tubing filled with helium, in which Piene merged the phenomena of light and weightlessness with the natural elements.
1969 He created a manned helium sculpture releasing Susan Peters into the air.
1974 In 1974 Piene became the Director of the Center for Advanced Visual Studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where he widened the scope of telecommunications, laser, video, hologram, sky art and environment art.
1993 Retires from his position as director of MIT’s CAVS
1968 Konrad-von-Soest-Preis of the Landschaftsverbandes Westfalen-Lippe
1994 Honorary doctor of Fine Arts h.c. of the University of Maryland
1996 Sculpture Prize of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, New York
2003 Leonardo da Vinci World Award of Arts of the World Cultural Council, Mexiko City
“Otto Piene was selected as the recipient of this Award in recognition of his artistic and innovative accomplishments. It is a prize offered to him for his more than 40 years of productive and creative work, exploring successfully new visual and technical forms and means in art.” World Cultural Council, 2003
2008 Awardee for Fine Arts of the Kulturstiftung Dortmund
2008 Großer Kulturpreis of the Sparkassen-Kulturstiftung Rheinland
enter new comment
Please, be adviced that you are entering your text into a database, not into a social network! By entering a comment, you add to the database. We much appreciate comments making us aware of errors or deficiencies.