Born in Bad Laasphe, Germany, in 1928
Lives and works in Düsseldorf, Germany and Groton, Massachusetts, USA
In 1957 Otto Piene developed the Grid Picture, a type of stencilled painting made from half-tone screens with regularly arranged points in single colours (yellow, silver, white or gold), for example Pure Energy (1958; New York, MOMA). Piene´s work then developed in a variety of forms. The Lichtballette ("light ballet") (from 1959) were a development of the Grid Pictures: light from moving torches was projected through grids, thus extending and stimulating the viewer´s perception of space. This series of works is inspired by László Moholy-Nagy´s Light Space Modulator (1930) and Fernand Léger´s Ballet Mécanique (1924).
Also in 1959, the combination of these grids with sources of fire (candles, gas-burners) produced smoke-traces and fire paintings, in which the paint was burnt. Piene created these Rauchbilder ("smoke pictures") as a reference to elementary natural energies. In the "fire paintings", he lightly burns a layer of solvent on pigmented paper, developing organic forms from the remnant, or the soot. He continues the practice of "smoke pictures" until today. Fire and smoke (their traces) are important elements in these pictures.
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 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.
Between 1949 and 1953 Otto Piene studied painting and art education at the Academy of Art in Munich and the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf. 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 György 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.
He represented Germany at the Venice Biennale in 1967 and 1971, and exhibited at documenta in Kassel, Germany, in 1959, 1964 and 1977. In 1985, he exhibited at the São Paulo Biennial.
Piene´s solo exhibitions include retrospectives at the Kunstmuseum im Ehrenhof, Düsseldorf, in 1996 and at the Prague City Gallery Prague, in 2002, and a show at the Museum am Ostwall, Dortmund in 2008-2009.
With Günther Uecker, Heinz Mack and Mattijs Visser he founded in 2008 the international ZERO foundation.