The German painter, printmaker and environmental artist Otto Piene has died age 86.From 1948 until 1950 Piene studied at the Blocherschule and at the Hochschule für Bildende Künste in Munich and subsequently moved to the Staatliche Kunstakademie in Düsseldorf. In 1957 he took the state exam in philosophy at the University of Cologne and at the same time worked as an art teacher. From 1955 Piene created letter reliefs and perforated grid-light boxes; two years later he developed the first of his grid pictures (monochrome vibration structures, that offered resistance to light). At the same time, together with Heinz Mack he organised the first evening exhibition in his studio in Gladbacher Straße in Düsseldorf and up until 1961 they edited ZERO magazine, issues 1 to 3.
At the end of the 50s Piene staged his archaic light ballet in Gallery Schmela in Düsseldorf and developed the first of his smoke drawings and his mechanised light sculptures. environments and fire pictures followed. In 1962 he established, along with Mack and Uecker the first Salon de lumière on the occasion of the NUL exhibition at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam. Over the course of the 60s Piene experimented with multimedia performances and with light, smoke, fire and air as well as helium sculptures. In 1964 he took up his first visiting professorship at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia; a year later he moved to New York. At the same time he developed light sculptures for the new Stadttheater Bonn, which led to his garnering of commissions to the present day that connect art and architecture.In 1968 the first large Sky Event Light Line Experiment took place, using over 300 meters of illuminated poIyethylene tubing filled with helium, in which Piene merged the phenomena of light and weightlessness with the natural elements. A year later he created a manned helium sculpture releasing Susan Peters into the air. In 1974 Piene became the Director of the Center for Advanced Visual Studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where he widened the scope of telecommunications, laser, video, hologram, sky art and environment art. From the eariIy 80s he combined the smoke and fire pictures with the grids of his ZERO period and from 1998 onwards he developed light rooms for various museums. such as the Kunsthalle Bremen. A spokesperson for the Friends of the Neue Nationalgalerie, which organised his most recent exhibit confirmed his death this morning.