Otto Piene is born on April 4, 1928 in Laasphe, Westphalia. From 1948 to 1950 he studies at the Blochererschule and at the Kunstakademie Munich and from 1950 to 1953 at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf. He then studies philosophy at the University of Cologne.
In the mid-1950s Piene starts to artistically engage with light as an element. Together with Heinz Mack, Piene founds the artist group ZERO. The term »ZERO« is used as the title of the first magazine (»ZERO 1,« April 1958) that documents the seventh evening exhibition »Das rote Bild«. It is the explicit aim of the group »to cleanse color from the traces of the Art Informel and of Neo-Expressionism.« Aside from renouncing the art of the previous generations the journal also contains new approaches to the significance of monochrome painting (Yves Klein), of Vibration (Mack) and of color as an articulation of light (Piene). Further issues of ZERO are edited by Piene and Mack until 1961. At the same time, the artists organize exhibitions and events. After 1961 Günther Uecker is also a member of what Piene himself calls the »inner circle« of ZERO which shortly afterwards also provides the spokesmen of the so-called »New Idealism.«
In the late 1950s Piene creates his first Raster Pictures, followed in 1959 by his legendary Lichtballette and Rauchbilder, referring to elementary energies of nature and attempting to achieve a connection of nature and technology. Similar to the works of the other ZERO artists, Piene’s engagements with the themes of light, movement, and space – this includes his air and light sculptures and the Luftprojekte and Sky Events of the late 1960s (also: the final event of the Olympic Games in 1972) – are distinguished by their experimental and multi-media character.
After 1964 Piene receives architectural commissions and gives lectures at the Institute of Contemporary Art in London and various art schools in the United States. After a visiting professorship at the University of Pennsylvania (Philadelphia), Piene moves to New York in 1965. Having taught there since 1968, he becomes the director of the Center for Advanced Visual Studies, CAVS, of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, in Cambridge, USA.
Piene’s works have been shown in numerous single and group exhibitions – for example, at the Stedelijk-Museum Amsterdam (1962), in the context of the first retrospective at the Museum am Ostwall in Dortmund (1967), at the Kunstmuseum Düsseldorf (1996) and at the ZKM Karlsruhe (2006). In 1964 he participates in the Documenta 3 (ZERO-Lichtraum) and in 1977 in the Documenta 6. In 1967 and 1971 Piene does the German pavilion at the Venice Biennale, and in 1985 he is part of the Biennale at Sao Paulo.
Otto Piene dies on July 17th, 2014, in Berlin.
Die Sonne kommt näher, Otto Piene, Frühwerk: Ausst.-Kat. Museum für Gegenwartskunst Siegen, hg. v. Barbara Engelbach, Siegen 2003
Kuhn, Annette: ZERO – Eine Avantgarde der sechziger Jahre, Frankfurt / Berlin, 1991
Stachelhaus, Heiner (Hg.): Otto Piene, Kunst die fliegt, Köln 1998
Otto Piene, Retrospektive 1952 — 1996: Ausst.-Kat. Kunstmuseum Düsseldorf, hg. v. St. v. Wiese u. S. Rennert, Köln 1996
Otto Piene und das CAVS: Ausst.-Kat. Badischer Kunstverein, Karlsruhe, 1988
Otto Piene: Ausst.-Kat. Museum am Ostwall Dortmund, o. J. (1984)
Otto Piene, Fire Flower Power: Ausst.-Kat. Dortmund 1967