A. Michael Noll Reflects on Two Art Exhibitions


A. Michael Noll

August 4, 2022

[The following commentary is authored by A. Michael Noll, and posted with the permission of the author. Michael was a pioneer in computer art in the 1960s, when the very idea of computer art might have been inexplicable.]

In 1968, two exhibitions were held: one in New York City at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA); the other in London at the Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA) from August 2 to October 20. One was looking back at the past – the world of mechanical and electro-mechanical – the other was looking forward to the coming world of digital and computers. The MoMA was trapped in the past; the ICA was in the future.

The MoMA exhibition was “The Machine — as seen at the end of the mechanical age” and was organized by Pontus Hultén, then director of the Moderna Museet in Stockholm. Jasia Reichardt, who started gathering materials in 1965, organized the ICA exhibition. Hultén wrote a book (with a metal cover) for his exhibition.[1] Reichardt edited a catalogue[2] and also a book[3] for her exhibition.

Reichardt wrote of the “…possibilities rather than achievements…” for computers in the arts. She concluded in her Introduction to the catalogue: “Thus people who never would have put pencil to paper, or brush to canvas, have started making images, which approximate and often look identical to what we call ‘art’ and put in public galleries.”

In 1968, Reichardt was a visionary looking to the future – Hultén was a museum director looking back. Today, over five decades later, it is the computer – and not mechanical machines – that matter in the world of art and media.

Was New York simply lost in the past, while London looked to the future? In 1965, the Howard Wise Gallery exhibited computer art by Bela Julesz and Noll, a few blocks away from the MoMA.[4] So it was the MoMA that did not then understand computers and their use in the arts.

A. Michael Noll

[1] K. G. Pontus Hultén, The Machine as seen at the end of the mechanical age, The Museum of Modem Art, 1968.

[2] Jasia Reichardt (editor), Cybernetic Serendipity, Studio International (special issue), July 1968.

[3] Jasia Rechardt (editor), Cybernetics, Art and Ideas, Studio Vista London, 1971

[4] A. Michael Noll, “The Howard Wise Gallery Show (1965): A 50th-Anniversary Memoir,” LEONARDO, Vol. 49, No. 3 (June 2016), pp. 232-239.

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