Otto Piene was a German artist and co-founder of the artist group ZERO. He is regarded as a pioneer of light and fire art as well as sky art actions.
Otto Piene was born in Laasphe, where his father was the founding headmaster of the Laaspher Gymnasium, and grew up in Lübbecke. After graduating from high school in 1947, he studied painting and art education at the Academy of Fine Arts in Munich from 1949 to 1950 and at the Academy of Arts in Düsseldorf from 1950 to 1953. Between 1951 and 1964 he worked as a lecturer at the Fashion School in Düsseldorf. From 1953 to 1957 he studied philosophy at the University of Cologne and graduated with the state examination. As a reaction to the abstract Informel, Piene and Heinz Mack founded the later internationally influential artist group ZERO ("Nullpunkt der Kunst") in Düsseldorf on April 11, 1957, which Günther Uecker joined in 1961.
In 1964 he took over a guest professorship at the University of Pennsylvania. From 1968 to 1971 he was a fellow of the Center for Advanced Visual Studies (CAVS) founded by Gyorgy Kepes in 1967. He declined the offer of a chair at the State Academy of Fine Arts Stuttgart in 1971.2 In 1972 he became Professor of Visual Design for Environmental Art at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which appointed him Director of the CAVS in 1974, a position he held until 1994.
In December 2008 Piene co-founded the ZERO foundation together with Heinz Mack, Günther Uecker and the Stiftung Museum Kunstpalast. The artists donated 40 works as well as their archives of the ZERO period with photographs and documents. The state capital of Düsseldorf will support the foundation for a period of 30 years.
Otto Piene was a member of the Deutscher Künstlerbund. The prevailing idea when the group "ZERO" was founded was a completely new beginning in painting, starting from the level "zero" and the inclusion in the artistic creation of light (and shadow) and - for Piene - also fire. Until 1961, Mack and Piene published their views in the magazine "ZERO". In 1959 Piene designed light ballets and smoke pictures with reference to elementary natural energies. The traces of fire and smoke are important elements of these works. He also experimented with multimedia combinations (1960). Piene is especially known for his light ballet and other light-kinetic works. In addition, he created air and light sculptures due to his intensive examination of light and movement.
One of Otto Piene's well-known cycles of works is entitled "Blue Planet / Blauer Planet". Piene is thus committed to the preservation of our Blue Planet by demanding: "Keep the Blue Planet green! / Let the Blue Planet stay green!"