In the 1960s, numerous artists turned away from painting with brush on canvas: They sought alternatives to the spontaneous, emotional expressive forms of the 1950s, such as Tachism, abstract Expressionism and Informel. The various paths let to Op Art, Kinetic Art, Minimal Art and conceptual art. In a certain sense, Manfred Mohr is one of the most radical painters of the period: in 1969 he had already opted for the use of the computer as an artistic medium. The machine fulfilled the yearning for rationality, precision and conceptualization of artistic work opened up the horizon for formal experiments of hitherto unknown complexity. On the occasion of his 75th birthday, the ZKM is dedicating a retrospective to the Pforzheim-born, New York-based artist in the form of a representative selection of works and numerous documents from his archive.
Mohr discovered the use of electronic calculating machines for the production of artistic works by way of the French pioneer of computer-generated music, Pierre Barbaud, with whom he became acquainted in Paris, in 1967. For Mohr, then not only a fine artist, but also a jazz musician, computer art represented an answer to the question as to how in art the principle of systematic, musical notation can be realized. The idea of a rational art had already fascinated Mohr in the early the 1960s, when first encountering the ideas of the philosopher Max Bense. He then learned programming autodidactically, managing to gain access to a computer and plotter at the Météorologie Nationale, the French national institute for meteorology. In 1971, a solo-exhibition of his work was held at the Musée d’Art Moderne de la ville de Paris. This was the first museum solo-exhibition of works by an artist whose works were produced and drawn exclusively by means of a fully automatic digital computer. Over the forty years that followed, Mohr went on to create a comprehensive formal vocabulary which he realized not only in drawings, but also in films, paintings, sculptures, art books, reliefs and computer animation.
The exhibition title makes reference to the decisive moment in the artistic process of the work with a computer: the design of the algorithm, namely, the sets of rules which are systematically processed by the computer. In a text dating from 1971, Manfred Mohr poses the provocative question as to whether it is possible to fully describe an artist’s style by an algorithm. The multiplicity of works presented in the exhibition documents the utopian element of the enterprise.
About the artist:
Manfred Mohr (*1938 in Pforzheim): after a training at the Kunst- und Werkschule Pforzheim the artist studied at the École des Beaux Arts, Paris. He has been living and working in New York since 1981. His works are represented in numerous collections, among others, the Centre Pompidou, Paris, the Museum Ludwig, Cologne, and Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam. His works have been on show in numerous solo- and group exhibitions, such as at the Kunsthalle Bremen, the Museum of Modern Art, New York, the Centre Pompidou, the Museo Nacional Centro de Reina Sofia, Madrid and the PS1, New York. His art has been awarded with numerous prizes, among others, with the Goldenen Nica of the Ars Electronica (1990), as well as the d.velop digital art award [ddaa] (2006).
Curator: Margit Rosen
In conjunction with the exhibition a book is to be published with early texts by Manfred Mohr: “Der Algorithmus des Manfred Mohr. Texte 1963–1979”, ed. by Margit Rosen.
photo: Manfred Mohr "P-055", 1970
computer generated plotter drawing, ink on paper
© Manfred Mohr