Otto Piene, 85, New Television Workshop Video Artist

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From the New York Times

piene-obit-1-superJumboOtto Piene, a German painter and sculptor known for his experiments in kinetic art and for working at the junction of art, nature and technology, died on Thursday in Berlin, where he was attending the opening of a retrospective of his work. He was 86 and had homes in Düsseldorf and Groton, Mass…

In 1957, along with Heinz Mack, Mr. Piene (pronounced PEEN-uh) founded the Zero Group, a collection of artists dedicated to redefining art in the aftermath of World War II. Through the mid-1960s the group attracted adherents from Japan and the Americas as well as Europe. Their work — to be celebrated in an exhibition at the Guggenheim Museum in New York this fall — anticipated developments in land art, Minimalism, Conceptual art and performance art.

From “The Medium is the Medium: the Convergence of Video, Art, and Television at WGBH (1969)

On March 23rd 1969 Boston’s public television station WGBH broadcast a program titled The Medium is the Medium. The program was a half-hour long compilation of short videos by six artists. The six pieces ranged from electronically manipulated imagery set to the music of the Beatles to an attempt at communication between four separate locations through audio-visual technology…

The Medium is the Medium was the result of the pairing of artists with engineers. This pairing was the brainchild of the Rockefeller Foundation, which decided to bring these two together in what was the Artists-in-Television program. Founded in 1967 it gave seed grants to two public broadcasting stations, WGBH in Boston and KQED in San Francisco. These grants enabled the stations to begin residency programs matching artists with members oftheir production staffs. Several of the artists in the program had made films but most were coming to this type of time-based art work for the first time…

The six artists in The Medium is the Medium came to the technology with varied degrees of experience. Some of them had a background in electronics such as Thomas Tadlock and Nam June Paik. Others had a history of making kinetic sculptures and multi- media pieces such as James Seawright, Aldo Tambellini and Otto Piene…

Of all the artists involved Piene was the one to see the potential of televising art. He saw the ability of broadcasting to bring art to a larger group of people. His video Black Gate Cologne (made with Aldo Tambellini) stands as the very first broadcast of video art in the world. Like the WGBH video it was also a event that took place live in the studio and recorded in its entirety for future broadcast…

Following the show’s broadcast, the six artists continued working, most of them leaving video technology behind. Paik alone continued to experiment and push the boundaries of the medium in both televisual and the sculptural directions… Piene continued teaching at MIT and became the director of the Center for Advanced Visual Studies in 1974.

Otto Piene: “The greatest service technology could do for art would be to enable the artist to reach a proliferating audience, perhaps through TV, or to create tools for some new monumental art that would bring art to as many men today as in the middle ages.”




  1. Denny Farrell on July 28, 2014 at 12:40 pm

    Keep up the great work. I enjoy reading your articles.
    All the best
    Big Band Hall of Fame inductee
    Denny Farrell
    Chicago, Il

    Broadcast on your station every Saturday afternoon.

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