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CAVS Director Otto Piene Retires

By Matt Mucklo
Otto Piene, director of MIT's Center for Advanced Visual Studies, retired on Sept. 1 and was named professor emeritus.

Piene turned 65 last spring, but his reasons for leaving lie in his belief that "once you've lived through two generations, it's time to leave your obligations to a new generation," he said. He also wanted more time to pursue his own work.

Since last year, MIT has been actively searching for a replacement director and is now in the second round of the selection process. A final candidate should be chosen by the end of the school year.

Furthermore, CAVS is in the process of moving from its present location next to Bexley Hall down Massachusetts Avenue to Building N52, below the MIT Museum. Not only will this new location provide more space for the new director, it should also allow better access to the museum so that projects can easily be displayed.

CAVS is the first center of its kind. It was formed in 1967 and became part of MIT in 1968. This year marks its 25th anniversary. The purpose of the center is to encourage interaction between artists, scientists, engineers, architects, as well as those in the humanities.

Piene sees the CAVS program as "a combination of the most basic and traditional concerns of teaching and learning in the arts," with explorations into "new art forms in the service of contemporary expectations." One of the fundamental questions that CAVS has tried to answer is "how can art be communicated in a world with five-plus billion" people, he said. In the past, CAVS has experimented with forms such as sky art, holography, computer art, laser art, and environmental art.

Since CAVS formation, between 180 and 185 fellows have been invited to the center for periods ranging from three months to five years, in order to do research, produce artwork, and work with students.

As with any academic institution, one of the fundamental concerns of the center has been teaching. In the past, the center has offered classes, as well as a graduate program leading to a masters degree in visual studies.

Piene hopes that the new director will be able to revitalize these programs. The "new generation of the center should be inspired by someone who is uninhibitively optimistic," he said.

MIT has traditionally provided one-quarter to one-third of the funds necessary to keep CAVS open; the rest has come from outside sources. Recently, partly because of the poor economy and partly because of the transition process, outside funding has slowed.

Piene admitted that there is not "a lot of fiscal power for the new person to start with," but he hopes that this will result in a stronger organization in the future.

Starting in May 1994, the MIT Museum will be holding an exhibition of all the work done at the center, in celebration of its 25th anniversary. The exhibition will last through next fall.