1928 · Germany
A founding member of the 1960s avant-garde group known as Group Zero, Otto Piene embraced the novelty of design espoused by the group and pushed forward his own investigations into the modes and means of art’s creation. He is perhaps best remembered for his Rauchbilder, or “smoke pictures,” which he created using controlled flame and smoke on solvent-treated pigmented paper.
Born in Laasphe, Westphalia, Germany in 1928, Piene studied at the Blocherer Art School, the Academy of Art in Munich, and the Staatliche Kunstakademie in Düsseldorf. His early years in Düsseldorf coincided with his collaborative creation of Group Zero with colleagues Heinz Mack and Günther Uecker. Group Zero remained active from 1957 to roughly 1966, however by that time Piene was already involved in other endeavors. He served, for example, as a Visiting Professor at the University of Pennsylvania in 1964 and then served as an MIT Center for Advanced Visual Studies (CAVS) Fellow from 1968 until 1971.
He then served the director of CAVS from 1974 to 1994, while also continuing to produce and exhibit new work. Important recent solo exhibitions include those at the MIT List Visual Arts Center, Cambridge (2011); Museum Kunstpalast, Düsseldorf (graphic work) (2013); LWL-Museum für Kunst und Kultur, Münster (2015) and the Fitchburg Art Museum (2019). Beyond exhibitions, many of Piene’s works are now part of major museum collections, including those of The Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, PA; and the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam.