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On the way to Otto Piene’s art paradise at Museum Tinguely Basel

The Museum Tinguely is exploring Otto Piene's experimental art worlds in a comprehensive retrospective. The German artist literally strove for heavenly realms with fire, smoke, fans and light.

Otto Piene (1928-2014) let a huge rainbow float over the Olympic Park. This was not in the recent queer past, but 50 years ago, at a time when "gay" was still being abused as a dirty word. The occasion was the closing ceremony of the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich.

The rainbow is Piene's best-known work, which many would probably not have declared to be art. But that suits this avant-garde artist, who was both a do-gooder and a researcher - in the scientific sense of the word. From the 1970s, the trained artist and philosopher headed a media laboratory for artistic and optical experiments at the renowned Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Boston.

Developing art from scratch

However, he went down in history above all as an influential artist. Together with Heinz Mack, Otto Piene founded the ZERO group at the end of the 1950s, which, as the name suggests, wanted to redevelop art in post-war Germany from scratch. Instead of using paint and brushes, the artists experimented with new materials and the elementary forces of nature: light, movement, wind, fire, air and energy.

Piene's ephemeral art knew no bounds. The artist torched canvases and created flowers from fire. His brushes were flames. He choreographed "light ballets" and shot helium-filled sculptures into the sky. In July 2014, Piene wanted to let his famous sky sculptures rise from the roof of the National Gallery in Berlin. This did not happen. The artist died in the middle of the preparations at the age of 86.

The Museum Tinguely is now highlighting the artist's "central themes" in various stations, as the museum writes. In addition to room-filling light installations, the exhibition includes documentation of his large aerial sculptures, media artworks and many sketches and painterly designs.

The exhibition "Otto Piene. Paths to Paradise" can be seen at the Museum Tinguely Basel until May 12.


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