“Programmed: Rules, Codes, and Choreographies in Art, 1965–2018” Exhibition

The Whitney Museum of American Art

poster for “Programmed: Rules, Codes, and Choreographies in Art, 1965–2018” Exhibition

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The Whitney Museum presents Programmed: Rules, Codes, and Choreographies in Art, 1965–2018, an ambitious installation of more than fifty works by thirty-nine artists filling the Museum’s sixth floor galleries. Drawn entirely from the Whitney’s collection, the exhibition expands the genre of “programmed” art beyond the digital to encompass paintings, drawings, sculptures, videos, and large-scale installations that explore the artistic possibilities of rules, algorithms, and code.

Programmed illuminates how both analog and digital programs have informed the evolution of contemporary artistic practices from works such as Donald Judd’s sculpture Untitled (1965) to Ian Cheng’s Baby feat. Ikaria (2013). The exhibition, largely featuring living artists, includes important recent acquisitions and rarely seen works. A centerpiece of the exhibition will be the debut of the recently restored Nam June Paik masterpiece Fin de Siècle II (1989), a 17-by-41-foot floor-to-ceiling video sculpture comprising over 200 televisions, which has not been exhibited publicly since the year it was made.

“At a time when algorithms and automated systems increasingly define our experience of the world, Programmed looks back across half a century to consider how artists have used rules and instructions in the creation of their work. Sometimes these systems are seen as profoundly generative, while in other cases they are approached as strictures to be corrupted. Throughout the show, we experience how artists have responded to new technologies, realizing their often unforeseen potential to effect profound changes in our image culture,” said Scott Rothkopf, Deputy Director for Programs and Nancy and Steve Crown Family Chief Curator.

The exhibition is divided into two sections, which link distinct themes of artistic exploration that are related in their implementation of instructions.

The first section of the exhibition, titled “Rule, Instruction, Algorithm,” examines the use of rules and algorithms to generate images and objects, focusing on conceptual art practices and their emphasis on ideas as the subject of art. In Homage to the Square (1967) and Variant (1966), Joseph Albers famously used a symmetrical system to nest three or four colored squares and rectangles inside each other, creating variations of colors that continuously change each other in our perception. In Programmed, Albers’s work is paired with Color Panel v1.0 (1999) by the contemporary new media artist John F. Simon Jr. More than thirty years later, Simon used the same principles as Albers and the Bauhaus artists to create continuously evolving configurations in motion.

“The histories of contemporary technological art forms are only now being written in a more comprehensive way” remarked Christiane Paul, the co-curator of Programmed and the Whitney’s adjunct curator of digital art. “Programmed strives to illustrate how art throughout the decades has been informed by technological and mathematical concepts and to provide insight into the increasingly coded structures of the contemporary landscape.”

When moving from the first to the second section, visitors pass through Nam June Paik’s Fin de Siècle II, which originally appeared as a site-specific installation in Image World: Art and Media Culture at the Whitney in 1989. After 1989, the work was reconceived as a smaller piece for a private collector before entering the Whitney’s collection in 1993. Now it will be presented in Programmed in its original format following a thorough restoration. The conservation effort, ongoing for the past six years, exemplifies the fundamental questions of restoring new media art, as it required the use of original components, recently acquired vintage pieces, reproductions of discontinued parts, and the substitution of new parts only when original components were impossible to include.

Fin de Siècle II combines music videos with Hollywood classics and other pop culture iconography to reconfigure the television screens into dancing patterns of images. Paik’s multi-channel arrangement marks the beginning of a new era of image production, in which found videos act as source material to be remixed.

“The challenge of recapturing the original impact of over 200 televisions in a single work of art engendered both practical and theoretical considerations of Paik’s original artistic investment. Attention was paid not only to the practical melding of old and new apparatuses but also to the artist’s inventive engagement with media,” said Carol Mancusi-Ungaro, Melva Bucksbaum Associate Director for Conservation and Research and co-curator of Programmed.

The second section of the exhibition, “Signal, Sequence, Resolution,” highlights artists’ varied use of rules or code to engage with the television—its program, apparatus, and signal—as well as with image resolution and the manipulation of image sequences. Paik’s Magnet TV (1965) and early modifications of a monitor by Earl Reiback adapt the TV set’s signal, while Lynn Hershman Leeson’s landmark installation Lorna (1979–1984), the first interactive art videodisc, invites visitors to use a remote control to navigate the protagonist’s story unfolding on the screen. The installation itself mirrors the environment that Lorna, an agoraphobic fearful of leaving her tiny apartment, inhabits in the TV set, allowing viewers to assume the position of Lorna both in the gallery and on the screen as they participate in the piece.

In addition to illustrating the aesthetic implications of rule-based processes, a number of artworks in Programmed demonstrate the social impact of rule-based communication systems. In one example, Keith and Mendi Obadike’s The Interaction of Coloreds (2002) recreates the brown paper bag test to simulate racial classification and colorism in an online environment.

Programmed will also debut a new augmented reality artwork created specifically for the Whitney’s sixth floor terrace, the Stefan Edlis and Gael Neeson Foundation Outdoor Gallery. Tamiko Thiel’s Unexpected Growth (2018), viewable on smartphones or at viewing stations by the terrace windows, places coral-like formations that respond to the number of viewers experiencing the project in the outdoor gallery, opening a portal into a future when sea levels have dangerously risen.

Programmed will also include a number of works originally commissioned for artport, the Whitney’s portal to Internet art and online gallery space for commissions of net art and new media art originally launched in 2001. This presentation will be the first time these works have been shown as large-scale installations and in dialogue with other work from the collection. Casey Reas’s {Software} Structures (2004), an artport project inspired by Sol LeWitt’s wall drawings and the legacy of conceptual art, will be shown alongside a LeWitt wall drawing.

Programmed: Rules, Codes, and Choreographies in Art, 1965–2018 will be on view beginning September 28, 2018 in the Museum’s sixth-floor Collection Galleries and Stefan Edlis and Gael Neeson Foundation Outdoor Gallery.



from September 28, 2018 to April 14, 2019

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