MIT to Honor the Life and Work of Otto Piene

Visions and Projections, 2011

On November 8, 2014, a memorial celebration for Otto Piene will be hosted by the School of Architecture + Planning, the Program in Art, Culture and Technology, MIT Museum Studio, and Fellows and Alumni of the Center for Advanced Visual Studies. We will celebrate his life, his work, and his incredible impact on the world of art. Follow this link for more information about the event, including time and location.

Piene joined the MIT community as the first international fellow of the Center for Advanced Visual Studies (CAVS) in 1968. In 1974 he succeeded CAVS founder György Kepes to become its Director, which he remained until his retirement in 1994. During his twenty years as Director, Piene continued to further the mission of CAVS and made a commitment to “art on a civic scale” by creating events and exhibitions for the public. These events and exhibitions were elaborate artistic celebrations that encouraged cultural and societal cohesiveness. Piene created several “civic scale” exhibits around the city of Boston and beyond, including Boston Celebrations I-II (1975-76), the Arttransition conference (1975), and Centerbeam (1977-78). As the scale of Piene’s projects grew larger, his influence prompted the expansion of CAVS, which developed a graduate program awarding a Master of Science in Visual Studies within the School of Architecture beginning in 1976.

Piene’s first great impact on the world of art came in 1957, when he and colleague Heinz Mack co-founded Group Zero, an influential European collective that sought to transform and redefine art in response to World War II. In 1961 Günther Uecker joined Group Zero, and in 1966 the group became ZERO, an international network of like-minded artists who shared the desire to reshape art by using new media and materials. For over 40 years the group has attracted adherents across Europe, Japan, North America, and South America. The exhibition ZERO: Countdown to Tomorrow is currently on display at the Guggenheim Museum in New York, celebrating this influential group’s work and exploring the experimental practices developed by the artists. Materials in the show encompass a diverse range of media including painting, sculpture, works on paper, installations, and archival materials such as publications, photographs, and films.

Piene’s work can be seen in nearly two hundred 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, Cambridge. He represented Germany at the Venice Biennale in 1967 and 1971, and exhibited at dOCUMENTA in Kassel, Germany, in 1959, 1964, and 1977. Piene’s Centerbeam (1977), a pioneering multimedia kinetic sculpture performance created with a team of CAVS artists for dOCUMENTA 6, was later exhibited on the National Mall in Washington, DC.

Throughout the 1960s Piene experimented with multimedia performances and with light, smoke, fire, and air, as well as inflatable sculptures. For the closing ceremony of the 1972 Munich Olympics, Piene created Olympic Rainbow, a “sky art” piece. “Sky Art”, as Piene described it in 1969, allowed him to use landscapes and cities themelves as the focal point of his work with the sky as a canvas; this became a characteristic aspect of his practice.

Piene received the Sculpture Prize of the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1996. His final installation The Proliferation of the Sun opened in July 2014 at the Nationalgalerie in Berlin. The work was originally conceived in New York in 1967 and performed in Nuremberg, Cologne, and Dortmund later that year. It consists of colorfully shimmering shapes on over a thousand hand-painted glass slides, which are projected into the open exhibition space, resulting in what Piene called a “poetic journey through space.” Piene passed away shortly after the opening of the installation on July 17, 2014.