Otto Piene

“Light is the primary condition for all visibility. Light is the sphere of colour. Light is the vital substance of both humans and painting,”1 wrote Otto Piene in 1958 in the second issue of the magazine ZERO, which he founded together with Heinz Mack in Düsseldorf. One year earlier, Piene had started experimenting with monochrome vibrational structures in order to allow his images to be lichtschlüpfig, “light-hatching”. Using perforated cardboard and metal, he made grids through which he trowelled thick oil paint onto a canvas in order to create a raised grid of dots – arranged in vertical, horizontal and circular sequences – that he drenched with solvents and paint. Through these real-space structures, Piene’s “Grid Pictures” become an instrument that, depending on the lighting conditions, modulates a real-time image made of light which varies according to the standpoint and perspective of the viewer. The artist also transferred the method of his Grid Pictures into kinetic and illuminated metal objects that – based on the principle of the Light-Space Modulator (1922–1930) developed by László Moholy-Nagy – transform the exhibition environment into constantly changing, random light structures and define pure light and its sheer visibility as the “subject” of his art. Piene’s light-modulation experiments stand for a purified form of elementary art, which he developed from a strategy of the greatest possible subtraction and reduction of artistic means and techniques striving towards a utopian zero point.

Ulrike Pennewitz


1 Otto Piene, “Über die Reinheit des Lichts”, ZERO 2 (October 1958).


In the exhibition:

Otto Piene
Ohne Titel (Rasterbild), 1959
Acrylic on canvas
70 × 90 cm
Private collection


Additional information about the artist