Otto Piene: Fire Paintings 1965 - 2009
This summer, following on from their successful 2012 retrospective, The Mayor Gallery is presenting a
solo exhibition of Otto Piene’s signature Fire Paintings from 1965 - 2009. Otto Piene, the co-founder
of the Group ZERO, alongside Heinz Mack in 1957, employs elemental fire as a tool to paint with
light and energy. Created by lighting a thin layer of solvent on the canvas, the image is born
organically from the flame and soot, then developed further with paint.
Group ZERO, a reference to a rocket launch countdown evoking a silence out of which a new
beginning develops, started as a radical reaction against Neo-Expressionism, and post-war art.
Piene’s experience of light and fire in World War II held a fascination for him as well as terror. The Fire
Paintings are a continually relevant expression of light as a source of life and death.
‘If you spend your nights staring at the night sky, with everything that’s going on there, the cosmos
good and the cosmos bad, half knowing it and trying to understand it, then (that) becomes life
altogether.’- Otto Piene speaking to Hans Ulrich Obrist, The Interview Project, 2011
Born in 1928, Laasphe, Germany, Piene attended the Blocherer Art School and studied painting
at the Academy of Art, Munich between 1948 to 1953, then gained a Philosophy degree from the
University of Cologne in 1957; the year Group Zero was founded. A leading figure in Kinetic art,
dealing with light, motion, technology and the environment, from 1968- 1971 he became the first
Fellow of the MIT Center for Advanced Visual Studies (CAVS) and between 1974- 1994 Piene was
the Director of CAVS. He lives and works between Groton Massachusetts, USA and Düsseldorf,
In October 2014 the Guggenheim Museum in New York will stage the first large-scale retrospective
in the United States dedicated to the ZERO movement. The exhibition ZERO: Countdown to
Tomorrow, 1950s-60s then travels to Europe presented by the ZERO foundation at the Martin
Gropius-Bau, Berlin from March 2015 and then at the Stedelijk Musueum, Amsterdam from July 2015.
The illustrated exhibition catalogue available from June presents a fascinating conversation
between Otto Piene and Hans Ulrich Obrist for The Interview Project (Obrist’s compilation of artist
interviews), getting a personal insight into the evolution of Zero Art and Piene’s personal journey.