Memorial: Otto Piene

Otto Piene, Electric Rose

I am saddened to report that one of the art world’s most visionary figures, Otto Piene, died on July 17, 2014 in Berlin, shortly after the opening of his exhibition More Sky at the Neue Nationalgalerie museum. Otto was the first fellow of MIT’s Center for Advanced Visual Studies (CAVS) and its Director from 1974 until his retirement in 1994.

Otto’s tenure as Director was characterized by large-scale collaborative exhibitions and events. One of the best known CAVS projects was Centerbeam, a kinetic sculpture that was comprised of holography, steam, lasers, neon, poetry, and sound. It was installed at Documenta 6, Kassel, Germany, in 1977, and on the National Mall in Washington, DC in 1978. While science is often viewed as influencing art, through CAVS, artists influenced science. In Otto’s words, “The scientist may be an extra brain to the artist, and the engineer may be an extra arm to the artist, [but] the artist can be an extra eye to the scientist and engineer.”

Piene’s Sky Event at the MIT150 Festival of Art in 2011, in collaboration with Seth Riskin of the MIT Museum, students, and alumni, celebrated the distinctive symbiosis of artists, scientists, and engineers that emerged at MIT with the founding of CAVS. Also in 2011, the List Visual Arts Center exhibited Otto Piene: Lichtballet, highlighting the artist’s exploration of light as an artistic and communicative medium.

Otto’s works are included in the collections of nearly 200 museums and public collections around the world including the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Nationalgalerie Berlin; the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis; the National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo; the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam; the Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris; and the MIT List Visual Arts Center.

He represented Germany at the Venice Biennale in 1967 and 1971, and exhibited at Documenta in Kassel, Germany, in 1959, 1964, and 1977. Piene received the Sculpture Prize of the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1996, and the Leonardo da Vinci World Award of Arts and UNESCO Joan Miró Medal in 2003.

We mourn the loss of such a visionary and influential figure, and we celebrate his many contributions.


In memoriam,

Renée Green
Director, Program in Art, Culture and Technology
Professor, Department of Architecture


Below is a Storify selection of posts in homage to Otto Piene: 


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