Together with Heinz Mack, Otto Piene founded the ZERO group and created elemental works with smoke, fire and light. He is considered a pioneer of his time. Already at the end of the 1950s, the first smoke drawings on paper were created by using candles as a design medium. From this idea, Piene developed the first of his famous fire pictures in the 1960s, combining smoke, fire, light and color to create significant works. In the comprehensive, retrospective exhibition "Otto Piene - Homage to Fire and Light," the Samuelis Baumgarte Gallery is dedicated to his diverse body of work with canvases, gouaches, sculptures, and ceramics. On display are more than fifty outstanding works by the pioneering artist.
Otto Piene was born in 1928 in Laasphe, Westphalia, and grew up in Lübbecke. After military service and imprisonment, Piene begins his studies at the Blocher School and the Art Academy in Munich at the age of 20. Two years later he transfers to the Düsseldorf Art Academy, where he is enrolled until 1953. This is followed by four years of philosophy studies at the University of Cologne. From the mid-fifties, Piene began to deal artistically with the element of light. He presented his works in group exhibitions from 1955, and in 1959 in a solo exhibition organized by the Schmela Gallery in Düsseldorf. In 1957 Piene founded the group "ZERO" together with Heinz Mack, which was later joined by Günther Uecker.
With the two other artists, Piene also publishes the magazine of the same name until 1961. Between 1961 and 1966 the group organized numerous ZERO exhibitions. In 1964, for example, it is represented at documenta 3 with a "ZERO Light Room" as a joint work by the three artists. That year, Piene took on a teaching position at the University of Pennsylvania, which he held for four years. He then went to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (M.I.T.) in Cambridge/USA, where he held a professorship for environmental art from 1972 and was director of the Center for Advanced Visual Studies (CAVS) from 1974 to 1993. As early as 1967, a first retrospective of Piene's works was held at the Museum am Ostwall in Dortmund; ten years later, the documenta again offered him a platform for presenting his objects. In 1990 the artist became a member of the advisory board of the Center for Art and Media in Karlsruhe.
Since 1994 he has been director emeritus at the CAVS. Otto Piene lives and works in Düsseldorf, Cambridge and Groton, Massachusetts. Otto Piene is known for his light-kinetic works, especially the light ballet, in which the artist seeks to establish a connection between nature and technology. Likewise, the consistent exploration of the themes of light, movement and space is evident in his technically completely different raster and fire paintings, with which Piene has been experimenting since the 1960s, and furthermore in his aerial and light sculptures and in the Sky Events he stages. Otto Piene dies on 17.07.2014 in Berlin.