Otto Piene, leading figure in kinetic and technology-based art, dies at 86

Visions and Projections, 2011

Professor emeritus of visual design directed MIT’s Center for Advanced Visual Studies from 1974 to 1994.

Val Grimm | MIT Program in Art, Culture and Technology 

MIT News

Otto Piene, a professor emeritus of visual design who was the first fellow of MIT’s Center for Advanced Visual Studies (CAVS) and its director from 1974 to 1994, died on Thursday in Berlin. He was 86.

Piene was born in Bad Laasphe, Germany in 1928 and studied art in Munich and Dusseldorf; he also earned a degree in philosophy at Cologne University. He joined MIT in 1968 at the invitation of CAVS founder György Kepes, becoming a professor of environmental art in 1972 and succeeding Kepes as CAVS director in 1974.

Piene exhibited widely over the course of his career, including multiple times at Documenta and the Venice Biennale. He was recognized with awards including the UNESCO Joan Miró Medal and the Sculpture Prize of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, as well as an honorary doctorate from the University of Maryland at Baltimore County.

His practice, primarily sculptural, focused on public and participatory art connected to nature and the elements through technology. Varying in scale from 1972’s 600- meter “Olympic Rainbow,” which illuminated the sky over the Olympic Park at that year’s Munich Olympics, to gallery-scale projections, glittering kinetic sculptures, and small smoke paintings, his work concentrated particularly in the media of light, air, fire, and motion, exploring perception and the composition of spaces ranging from small studios to city skylines.

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