The history and evolution of digital art is on display in the exhibition Coded: Art Enters the Computer Age, 1952–1982 at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA). This exhibition showcases how artists from different disciplines and backgrounds experimented with computer technology and its implications for artistic expression and social critique.

The exhibition covers a span of three decades, from 1952, when the first purely aesthetic image was created on an analog computer, to 1982, when the personal computer became widely available and accessible. During this period, computers were mainly used for military, scientific, and industrial purposes, but some artists saw their potential as a new medium and tool for creating art. They used computers to generate images, sounds, texts, and animations, as well as to manipulate data, algorithms, and systems.

The exhibition features more than 100 works by over 50 artists, writers, musicians, choreographers, and filmmakers from around the world. Some of the notable names include Vera Molnar, Manfred Mohr, Nam June Paik, Sonia Landy Sheridan, Stan VanDerBeek, John Cage, Laurie Anderson, Sonya Rapoport, and Charles Csuri. The works range from drawings, prints, paintings, sculptures, installations, videos, films, performances, and publications.

Some of the highlights of the exhibition are:

  • A selection of computer-generated graphics by Herbert W. Franke (1956–58), who used a Zuse Z22 computer to produce complex patterns and forms.
  • A group of paintings by Vera Molnar (1968–72), who used a plotter to create geometric compositions based on mathematical rules and variations.
  • A video installation by Nam June Paik (1971), who used a video synthesizer to manipulate TV signals and create psychedelic effects.
  • A film by Stan VanDerBeek (1974), who used a computer animation system to create a collage of images and sounds from various sources.
  • A performance by John Cage (1978), who used a computer program to generate random instructions for musicians and dancers.
  • A video by Laurie Anderson (1981), who used a voice synthesizer to alter her speech and create a narrative about technology and identity.

The exhibition also includes a soundtrack by dublab’s Mark “Frosty” McNeill and LACMA that traces the evolution of computer music from the earliest experiments to the contemporary sounds.

Coded: Art Enters the Computer Age, 1952–1982 is curated by Leslie Jones, Curator of Prints and Drawings at LACMA. It is on view from February 12 to July 2, 2023 at BCAM Level 2.

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