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German artist Otto Piene dies unexpectedly in Berlin after opening exhibition at Neue Nationalgalerie
Otto Piene, The Proliferation of the Sun, 2014. Installation view Neue Nationalgalerie Berlin. Photo: David von Becker.

BERLIN.- On July 17, 2014, following the major exhibition openings for “Otto Piene. More Sky” and in the midst of his preparations for the Sky Art Event that was to follow, Otto Piene died unexpectedly in Berlin at the age of 86. In keeping with the artist’s family’s wish, the Sky Art Event over the roof of the Neue Nationalgalerie is taking place on Saturday, July 19, 2014, as planned.

“Die Sonne kommt näher” (Otto Piene)

Otto Piene had been in Berlin for several days, where the Neue Nationalgalerie and the Deutsche Bank KunstHalle are currently paying him a major tribute with three jointly planned projects. On Wednesday, July 16, Otto Piene was greeted at the exhibition opening of his early work (Deutsche Bank KunstHalle) with resounding enthusiasm; this was followed by the large-scale projections of his slide piece The Proliferation of the Sun (Neue Nationalgalerie). Thousands of guests celebrated him as a visionary and pioneer in art.

The Sky Art Event had been planned well ahead of time as a highlight of the opening ceremonies: three large-scale air sculptures were set to rise above the Neue Nationalgalerie on the evening of Saturday, July 19, 2014. Only hours before his death, Otto Piene was on the roof of the great architectural icon for the first time to assess the site in brilliant sunlight and full of happy anticipation. Following a discussion with the team he directed, including many long-time colleagues, companions and family members, Otto Piene unexpectedly passed away. His dream of floating three white sculptures above the architecture of Mies van der Rohe, whom he greatly admired, will be carried out according to his plan and the wishes of the artist’s family. The event takes place as planned on July 19 from 5 pm to 3 am.

The German-born artist Otto Piene (* 1928 in Laasphe/Westphalia) is considered to be one of the great pioneers and innovators of 20th-century art. Originally trained as a painter, he already departed from art’s classic forms in the mid-1950s to open up new spaces for art. In the framework of the international ZERO movement, which he co-founded with Heinz Mack, Piene developed numerous projects that also took place in public spaces, outside of galleries and museums.

The works he made during this time—the grid, smoke, and fire paintings, the light spaces and kinetic light ballets—stand for a synthesis of nature, science, and art that was new and visionary for the time. These expansive approaches to art culminated toward the end of the 1960s in his move to the US to become a professor at MIT and director of the Center for Advanced Visual Studies (CAVS/MIT, Cambridge, Massachusetts), where he worked on a wide array of interdisciplinary projects in public spaces. Close by, in Groton, Massachusetts, he created his ―Art Farm‖ together with his wife Elizabeth Goldring. Beginning in 1968, in collaboration with scientists and other artists, Piene developed his so- called Sky Art Events and Sky Art Conferences in which he let his air- or helium- filled sculptures rise up above buildings, stadiums, rivers and landscapes into skies worldwide—including his monumental rainbow for the closing ceremonies of the 1972 Olympic games in Munich. These open works, developed in collaborative effort and often very colorful, became symbols of hope and peace worldwide.

Shortly before he died, Otto Piene said that he took particular pleasure in showing his work in Berlin again, the city in which, decades ago, he had one of his first solo shows: ―It all comes full circle.‖ (Otto Piene)

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