Pioneers of Digital Art in the 60s and 70s: at the source of an artistic mutation | Leonardo/ISASTwith Arizona State University

Pioneers of Digital Art in the 60s and 70s: at the source of an artistic mutation

Pioneers of Digital Art in the 60s and 70s: at the source of an artistic mutation
by Camille Frémontier-Murphy, Co-Curator

May 2-June 2, 2023
RCM Galerie
Exhibition website:

Reviewed by: 
Susana Sulic
August 2023

RCM Galerie presented The Pioneers of Digital Art, in the 1960’s-1970’s: at the source of an artistic mutation, a group exhibition by the early generation of artists that included Charles Csuri, Ken Knowlton, Desmond Paul Henry, Joan Truckenbrod, Colette Bangert, Monique Nahas and Hervé Huitric, Jean-Claude Marquette, Aldo Giorgini, Gerhard Von Graevenitz, Jean-Pierre Hébert, Jean-François Colonna, Alexandre Vitkine, Kammerer-Luka, Vera Molnar. The show took place from May 2 to June 2, 2023 and was part of the Leonardo Network activities in collaboration with ISEA.The selection of almost 50 works allowed visitors to reevaluate the creative effort of these artists that not only were working with a new fascinating tool but expanded innovative attitudes.

They represent a good example of artists who started their careers in engineering or mathematics and went on to make important discoveries in art. These first researchers were also confronted with technical and conceptual problems as well as screen output of the works. Soon they realised that the existing classical art techniques were not capable of interpreting the experience and imagination of a totally different order of aesthetics. The repetitive strokes and textures are the result of a controlled chance; thus, they created a trend close to geometry and concrete art. Most of them use line as well as black and white.

Many of the works shown are computer prints on paper, for example Computer Nude (Studies in Perception I), by Ken Knowlton. We could distinguish others, like Computer Wave Pulse, a 2019 digital weaving in linen by Joan Truckenbrod; Untitled, a 1964 (mechanical drawing) on paper by Desmond Paul Henry; Negative Reflection, produced in 1974 by Aldo Giorgini, a computer print on mylar with hand-applied ink. Some of these early works focused on the differences and complementary uses in between the human hand technics and the algorithm as Untitled of Monique Nahas and Hervé Huitric, with computer punch cards painted with gouache and laid on wood, created in 1972.

Charles Csuri (1922–2022, USA) experimented with computer-based multimedia since 1964 in the form of plotters, canvas, prints, milling machine sculpture, holograms, and NFT’s animation.

Vera Molnar (1924, Hungary) is not only very well known as a major figure in geometry and abstraction but also as a pioneer in digital art, as she integrated programming and then the computer in 1968.

Kenneth Charles Knowlton (1931–1921, USA) is also one of the first to make computer-generated works at Bell Labs and, then, at Wang Laboratories. In fall 1967 Robert Rauschenberg included in Experiments in Art and Technology the extended version of Knowlton’s Nude (Studies in Perception I). After this event it was reviewed in The New York Times and a year later, exhibited at The Machine as Seen at the End of the Mechanical Age at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

Alexandre Vitkine (1910, Germany – 2014 France), electromechanical engineer and photographer, from the end of the 80s had also developed software for controlling milling machines. Vitkine, in his electric photography from the 1960s, worked more like a sculptor.

Some of them in the 70s, like Gerhard Von Graevenitz (1934–1983), participated in some groups involved in kinetic art, Zero, and op-art. He was the co-founding member of the Nouvelle Tendance. In the early 70s Monique Nahas, Hervé Huitric, and Jean-Claude Marquette were members of the Group GAIV (Groupe Art et Informatique de Vincennes) in France.

Colette Stuebe Bangert (1934, USA) has created both drawings and computer-generated landscapes by the treatment of lines and the organization of space.

Jean-Pierre Hébert, (1939, France – 2021, USA) specialized in algorithmic art and mixed media and co-founded the Algorists in 1995 with Roman Verostko. Both of them received the ACM SIGGRAPH Distinguished Artist Award for Lifetime Achievement in Digital Art, as well as Vera Molnar.

Other remarkable aspects of his evolution is the Leonardo journal, founded in 1968 by Frank Joseph Malina (1912, USA – 1981, France). In recognition of his work the gallery chose Flash-Flash (1968) a Kinetic painting: a Lumidyne system that changes colour and light of a fixed compositional outline. It serves to express not only geometric themes but mathematical relationships in regular and cyclical motions.

Also part of the ISEA Symposium in a Special Session, Roger Malina paid tribute to Peter Weibel, “Disremembering Peter Weibel: Reminiscences are more Interesting than Fact.” Along with the exhibition Camille Frémontier-Murphy, co-curator of the exhibition, gave a talk, “At the Sources of an Artistic Mutation Towards Science: The First Years of the Journal, Leonardo (1968–1981) as a Forum for the Pioneers of Digital Art” at the Forum des Images in Paris.

For a decade one generation of artists turned to the computer as a means to push creation beyond the limits. In their artistic practice they subverted stereotypes and opened our minds to new possibilities.