The Proliferation of the Sun
curated by Sabine Schaschl
Museum Haus Konstruktiv devoted a comprehensive solo exhibition to Otto Piene with a selection of works produced between 1955 and 2014. Alongside early paintings influenced by abstract expressionism, there were grid, smoke and fire paintings, light installations and air sculptures on display, in which the artist incorporated the elements light, fire and air to create a unique oeuvre that is still just as relevant today as it ever was.
Otto Piene (b. 1928 in Bad Laasphe, d. 2014 in Berlin) first studied at the Academy of Fine Arts (AdBK) in Munich and at Staatliche Kunstakademie in Düsseldorf, before obtaining a degree in philosophy in 1957 at the University of Cologne. In 1958, he and Heinz Mack founded the group ZERO, which Günther Uecker also joined three years later, and which gradually evolved into an international movement. Together, they promoted the zero point and a new beginning for art, in numerous exhibitions and happenings. The ZERO artists were particularly fascinated by the medium of light. Otto Piene used it as a design element in his precise choreographed light ballets – installations in which light shone out of rotating objects combined with mirrors, through perforated walls and into the darkened room. In addition, he began to experiment with fire, smoke and air. The resulting works clearly stood out from the art forms that were common at the time. His move to New York in 1965 opened up new opportunities for him: In 1968, at the invitation of György Kepes, Piene became a fellow (and, six years later, director) of the newly founded Center for Advanced Visual Studies (CAVS) at the renowned Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge, which is still famous for interdisciplinary collaboration between scientists, engineers and artists to this day. There, he found ideal conditions for the realization of his visionary sky-art projects, which were initially developed for outdoors: He caused large-format objects, inflated with air and helium, to rise into the sky.
The exhibited light installations and air sculptures made it more than clear that, as Otto Piene himself kept pointing out, he was always concerned with the transfer of energy in his art. At the same time, he succeeded in making an innovative contribution to so-called immaterial art, with a radiance that endures to this day.