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Energy Fields: ZKM Museum of Contemporary Art celebrates the 85th birthday of Otto Piene
Otto Piene, Fleurs du Mal, 1969. Silk, fan and electrics, size of the installation may vary, hight of the different objects: between 200 and 250 cm, 7 components, private collection © Otto Piene / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2013, photo:

KARLSRUHE.- Otto Piene is considered one of the most important pioneers of a kinetic, technology-based multimedia art. On the occasion of Otto Piene’s 85th birthday, the ZKM presents the exhibition Energy Fields, which – in connection with a selection of around fifty works – provides comprehensive insight into the work of the German artist, born in 1928.

Otto Piene assumes a special position in the history of the ZKM: as a board member in 1990, he was instrumental in helping to found the ZKM | Center for Art and Media Karlsruhe. Already in 1974, he succeeded György Kepes as director for the Center for Advanced Visual Studies (CAVS) at MIT in Boston and by 1994 he had made it into one of the most important centers worldwide for art and technology. Today, a direct line of development to the ZKM can be drawn from Kepes, the Bauhaus student and successor of Moholy-Nagy in Chicago, and Piene at CAVS.

After completing his studies at the Art Academy in Munich and Düsseldorf as well as philosophy studies in Cologne, Piene joined Heinz Mack and Günther Uecker to found the ZERO art movement in Düsseldorf in the late 1950s. His intense confrontation with the natural elements of light, air, smoke, and fire emerged after the mid-1950s. In numerous texts he describes light as being the foremost condition upon which all that is visible rests. In the 1960s, he became known with his light-kinetic works, especially with his light ballets; in these, he creates a performative work that thematizes light, movement and space. For Piene, art is not so much a conceptual as it is an energy phenomenon. The integration of natural-scientific findings as well as the intensive connection between art, technology and nature form the basis of all of his art. Moreover, Piene is one of the founders of Environmental Art.

Using his smoke and fire pictures of the 1960s as a starting point, the exhibition at the ZKM features his Inflatables sculptures, his light installations, gouaches, and never before shown drawings, new ceramic works and reliefs. For the first time, the large variety of media in which the artist has worked in the course of his life, is at the core of the exhibition. Central works of the show are, along with early, stroboscopelit works, multi-element air-plastic Fleurs du Mal and the current ceramic works, which again engage the element of fire. These works especially connect the paintings and sculptures with the light works of Otto Piene.

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