Piene found international acclaim representing his native Germany in the 1967 and 1971 Venice Biennale as well as participating in documenta 1954, 1964 and 1977. In the 1960s, he became widely known as the co-founder of the artist group ZERO, in partnership with the artist Heinz Mack and later Günther Uecker. The lack of institutional support for young artists at the time saw Piene and Mack hold frequent late night exhibition in their own studios. Many artists aligned themselves with this shared zeitgeist. Often operating on the periphery, these creatives were accumulating a collective vision which questioned traditional notions of art and its production. Other notable members of this group included Yves Klein and Lucio Fontana, who joined Piene in his quest to dissolve the boundaries of art. The success of the ZERO artists' first exhibitions boosted their critical acclaim and they gained attention from gallerists and collectors. Yves Klein in particular was offered a show by local gallerist, Alfred Schmela who had never previously seen his work. The ZERO movement encapsulated a group of artists who were known for their utopian ambition to re-energize and redefine European arts and culture in the sorrowing aftermath of World II. Piene said of Zero, “Zero is the incommensurable zone in which the old state turns into the new” (Otto Piene cited in: ‘Die Entstehung der Gruppe ‘Zero’’, The Times Literary Supplement, 3 September 1964, online). Reveling in the historic advancements of light and space, the ZERO artists utilised performance, kinetic and environmental art as new forms of inquiry. From Klein’s monochrome bodily impressions, to Fontana’s destructive slashing of the canvas, the group revolutionised the production of post-war art in Europe, through ground breaking experimentation and collaborative interchange.
In Rauchbild, Piene’s fixation with organic matter and form is evident in every way. His passion is interconnected with art, fused together via his unorthodox mode of production. The charred spherical isolation is rich in the memory of Piene’s process and challenges the notion of space with its ostensible eternal depth. Rauchbild is characteristic of the work created by the Zero group – possessed by innovation and fundamental in changing predisposed ideas of the potentialities of art.
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