Otto Piene

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Otto Piene was one of the founding members of the Zero Group, one of Germany’s most influential movements in modern art. He founded the group alongside fellow artists Heinz Mack and Gunther Uecker, and it went onto become the leading artistic movement after World War II. Piene also became a leading figure in kinetic and technology based art, which was unheard of during those post war years. The Garman painter extraordinaire is regarded as one of the most influential renewers of 20th century art. For nearly six decades Piene’s ground breaking work signaled the notion of a radical new beginning in the art world, he took the world by storm with his technological and spiritual works. He also won many hearts through the Zero Group as the group reminded everyone of Germany’s disappeared character and became a symbol of resurgence during those postwar times. Not only did the group find fame in Germany but in Europe, Japan and in America as well.

Otto Piene was born in 1928 in Bad Laasphe, Westphalia Germany. The then 16 year old was soon drafted to war and even imprisoned but it didn’t traumatize him at all, if anything it fuelled his desire to return to his life once released. Piene enrolled in the Academy of Arts in Munich to study painting and art education, and then later shifted to the Staatliche Kunskademie in Dusseldorf.  Piene evenatually graduated with a degree in philosophy from the University of Cologne an soon after leaving the university he started the Zero Group movement. Piene’s philosophy for the group and his kinetic approach towards to art was very different from most other artists. For Piene art should enable the viewer and artist – both – to go through a cosmonautic adventure, one where you are taken away from Earth and can overcome gravity. This is way a lot of Piene’s paintings are covered in different compositions of light, fire and airstreams. It was almost as if Piene was trying to build a better more perfect world, especially after the war. He genuinely felt that art could make the difference which humanity often failed to at times. Apart from teaching stints at the University of Cologne and University of Pennsylvania, Piene was also the first Fellow of MIT’s Centre for Advanced Visual Studies (CAVS) and became its director after a few years until his death. It was Piene who designed the Olympic Rainbow for the 1972 Olympics in Munich. The symbol was a five spot lit, 600 metre long helium balloons which hovered over the main city.

Despite Dusseldorf being his hometown the city where he first tasted success as an artist, Piene settled down in Groton, Massachusetts where he went on to spend the reminder years of his life.  It comes as no surprise to any that he was bestowed with many honors throughout his career; these included a professorship award from MIT, an honorary doctorate from the University of Maryland, the Leonardo da Vinci prize, and an award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

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