Otto Piene (German, 1928-2014) Untitled 1974

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Lot 18* AR
Otto Piene
(German, 1928-2014)
Untitled
1974

£ 80,000 - 120,000
US$ 99,000 - 150,000
Withdrawn
Otto Piene (German, 1928-2014)
Untitled
1974

signed and dated 74 on the overlap; signed and dated 74 on the reverse
oil and fire on canvas

183.5 by 153.1 cm.
72 1/4 by 60 1/4 in.


Footnotes

  • We are grateful to the Estate of Otto Piene, Groton, for confirming the authenticity of this work.

    Provenance
    Collection of the artist, Groton
    Thence by descent to the present owner



    Seeking to redefine art after the Second World War, Otto Piene along with many of his contemporaries looked to embrace a forward-looking and optimistic ethos, one free from the constraints of the art historical canon filled instead with free-spirited experimentation; in 1957 alongside fellow artist Heinz Mack, Piene would go on to found the ZERO movement. A disparate and diverse group of artists, they all strove towards a shared creative mission of incorporating ground breaking methods and materials into their work. "From the beginning we looked upon the term [ZERO] not as an expression of Nihilism, or as a Dada-like gag, but as a word indicating a zone of silence and of pure possibilities for a new beginning as at the countdown when rockets take off: zero is the incommensurable zone in which the old state turns into the new" (the artist in: Otto Piene, 'The Development of the Group "ZERO''', in The Times Literary Supplement, 3 September 1984, pp. 812-813).

    After meeting Yves Klein, Piene was inspired by the artist's use of material and colour, and more specifically his ground-breaking use of the monochrome and the creative potential of fire and light. A rare and impressive example of the artist's work, Untitled, 1974 incorporates the pure white monochrome with the alchemic potential of fire. In the present work, the fire treated canvas has been covered with a thick layer of paint creating an abstract landscape of textured and organic shapes. Created in the wake of the moon landing in 1969, the result is raw but familiar, recalling the rugged surface of the moon. Engineering feats such as these would have resonated with artists of the ZERO group and their rejection of pre-war aesthetic ideals and their forward thinking embrace of the renewal of art through new materials. This painting demonstrates the way in which Piene has transformed how the canvas is handled, moving away from the pure applications of paint, pushing the material and aesthetic boundaries of painting itself.

    Piene's use of white is significant, a signifier for purity, white also represents the infinite, acting as a current "between the work and the spectator and fill[s] the space between them. This space cannot be quantified because the spatial properties of the work are irrational - the work "as space" is irrational' (the artist in: 'Paths to Paradise', 1961, in Otto Piene and Heinz Mack Eds., ZERO, Cambridge 1973, p. 64). His use of fire however, can be read as both destroyer and purifier. Reducing whatever it touches to ash, fire acts as a metaphor for life, death, cleansing and ultimately the immaterial.

    With works in the world's most important collections, including the MoMA, New York, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, The Walker Art Centre, Minneapolis, The Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam and The National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo, Otto Piene's work has been celebrated in countless exhibitions including the landmark exhibition Zero: A countdown to tomorrow at the Solomon R. Guggenheim, New York in 2014 and a major retrospective Fire and Light: Otto Piene in Groton, 1983–2014, which debuted at the Fitchburg Art Museum near the artist's former home in Groton, Massachusetts in 2019.

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