Since the late 1950s, Manfred Mohr, a pioneer of generative and computer art, has been making rigorously minimal paintings and drawings. His work is stringently conceptual, but with an elegant lyricism which belies its formal underpinnings.
During the 1960s, Mohr’s practice evolved from abstract expressionism towards a more hard-edged geometric painting. By 1968, in pursuit of a ‘real rational art’ he had begun to develop a ‘programmed expressionism’ in which algorithms were used to generate art that formalised his vision in a new, logical way.
In 1969, Mohr gained access to one of the first computer-driven drawing machines or ‘plotters’ at the Paris Institute of Meteorology, used at that time by scientists to draw weather patterns. With this plotter, Mohr developed a series of computer programs based on certain algorithms that provided a controlled system through which new visual forms could be explored. Random elements were often incorporated to enable new forms to be generated within the framework of the algorithm. This line of research was inspired in part by philosopher and information theorist Max Bense and also by conversations with composer Pierre Barbaud, who was developing a theory of computer-generated music. In computer technology, Mohr found a means of exploring ideas that went beyond his personal limitations, opening up conceptual realms that might otherwise remain inaccessible.
Over the last forty years, Mohr has used the multi-dimensional cube in 3, 4, 5, 6 and 11 dimensions to explore structural relationships within higher dimensions and their artistic potential as a system of two-dimensional visual signs or ‘êtres graphiques’. In 2000, he introduced colour and animation to give fuller expression to the incredible richness of the multiple, complex variations.
Mohr’s exhibition at the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris in 1971 was the first solo presentation in a museum of ‘computer art’. Since then he has had major solo exhibitions in the US and Europe, and group shows at MoMA, New York; Centre Pompidou, Paris and the National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo. His work is in major national institutional collections including the Victoria and Albert Museum, London; Centre Pompidou, Paris; Josef Albers Museum, Bottrop; Museum Ludwig, Cologne; and Kunstmuseum Stuttgart.
An in-depth interview with curator Morgan Quaintance charting the breadth of Mohr's career and the scope of his practice is available here.