What happens when machines produce art?

What happens when machines produce art?

Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt

October 16, 2007

What happens when machines produce art?


18 OCTOBER 2007 – 27 JANUARY 2008

Römerberg, D-60311 Frankfurt
Tel.: (+49-69) 29 98 82-0
Fax: (+49-69) 29 98 82-240
Tues., Fri.-Sun. 10 a.m.-7 p.m.
Wed. and Thurs.. 10 a.m.-10 p.m
welcome [​at​] schirn.de



We generally assume that artists make art. But what happens when machines produce art? Do artists then become engineers? What does the artist’s apparent withdrawal from the creative act signify, and what are the consequences of that action for the originality and uniqueness of the artwork? What is then the work of art: the machine, the product, or the act of producing it? Beginning with Jean Tinguely’s drawing machines from the 1950s and continuing to the present, this exhibition, jointly conceived by the Schirn and the Museum Tinguely in Basel, features art machines that have one thing in common: they produce art themselves. Machines by artists such as Angela Bulloch, Olafur Eliasson, Damien Hirst, Rebecca Horn, Jon Kessler, Tim Lewis, Lia, Miltos Manetas, Steven Pippin, Cornelia Sollfrank, Antoine Zgraggen, and Andreas Zybach transform art spaces into production spaces. Thanks to the mechanical process of production, visitors to the exhibition can take home several of the works, such as the Tinguely machine drawings and sheets by Damien Hirst and Olafur Eilasson. Other, digital works may be produced by the visitors in the exhibition or on the Internet, such as on the websites of Lia or Miltos Manetas.

The exhibition Art Machines Machine Art is supported by Skoda Auto Deutschland GmbH. Additional support was provided by the Art Mentor Foundation Lucerne.

Max Hollein, director of the Schirn: “Human trust in the activity of machines, the basis for the industrial revolution and our prosperity, is so fundamentally alien to how artists see themselves that they have been hesitant to use machines to produce art. The machine as a work of art that in turn produces works of art is tantamount to abandoning the artist’s autonomy and handing over the responsibility of creativity to an apparatus. It thus raises a question that is extremely topical today given the constantly shifting boundaries between the individual and technology.”

Katharina Dohm and Heinz Stahlhut, the curators of the exhibition: “If one makes the general assumption that artists and not machines are the authors and creators of works of art, then the discrepancy between the two could not be greater. For whereas the machine is conceived with such qualities as the repeatability of production processes in mind, art has traditionally been distinguished by its uniqueness. Coupled with the latter is the idea of the individual artist as a creative genius. The present exhibition called this idea into question in serious and ironic ways.”

Creating a machine as a work of art and making it responsible for developing other works of art is a radical step; it transfers responsibility for creativity to an apparatus. Do such machines have a “soul”? They do indeed develop an autonomous power and produce a work that exists for itself – without, however, ever being able to complete it. The machine and its automated processes lack the power to decide and the possibility to select. The resulting machine-made artworks lack an aspect of finality but nevertheless express a fundamental concession to the sovereignty of the machine and an essential faith in the possibilities of creativity beyond individual action.

The exhibition Art Machines Machine Art begins in the twentieth century with Jean Tinguely’s oeuvre, which manifests in an extremely original way his effort to come to terms with the machine as an autonomous apparatus of creativity. His Méta-matics, which were exhibited for the first time in 1959 in Paris, and which brought him international renown, are motor-driven drawing machines with which the viewer can produce abstract drawings. The discrepancy between the between the materiality of the Méta-matics and their function of producing art can certain be understood as an ironic commentary on the then dominant faith in technological progress. It also reflects the artistic context of the 1950s: the drawings produced by machine correspond stylistically to Tachist paintings, and hence were a reductio ad absurdum of the notion of gestural abstraction as an immediate expression of an individual artist. This group of works, as a kind of historical core, forms in a sense the basis of the exhibition. It is followed by a selection of works that have one thing in common: the creative act is delegated by the artist to a machine. The latter process only became fully possible after the Second World War, when a generation of young artists arose who broke with one of the most guarded taboos of European art: the idea of the original work of art. The present selection reflects this process in a variety of artistic media such as painting, drawing, sculpture, and video and ends up with what is perhaps the largest “art machine” of all: the World Wide Web.

The visitor will find machines that have completed their production before the exhibition began, such as those in Michael Beutler’s sculpture Proper en Droog, and others that produce throughout the duration of the show, such as Roxy Paine’s SCUMAK No. 2, organic-seeming sculptures from a kind of modeling clay that hardens after being pressed out of a machine. The drawing machines Making Beautiful Drawings by Damien Hirst and The Endless Study by Olafur Eliasson both demand the viewer’s input and fundamentally question the relationship between the viewer and the work of art. Whereas Eliasson starts out from a physical phenomenon, Hirst is interested in the question of the creator. Andreas Zybach’s tunnel construction 0–6,5 PS paints by means of the involuntary participation of the viewer; in Angela Bulloch’s Blue Horizon the machine only begins to draw in response to an external impulse; the two photocopiers that Steven Pippin combined in Carbon Copier (Anyway) only produce their “drawings” in delicate gradations of gray when the viewer presses both buttons simultaneously. Jon Kessler’s video installation Desert, by contrast, confronts us with sunsets just as incessantly as Tim Lewis’s Auto-Dali Prosthetic signs rolls of paper. Pawel Althamer’s Extrusion Machine (Bottle Machine) produces blasphemous plastic bottles; Antoine Zgraggen’s Großer Hammer Zerquetscherin (Crusher) helps the viewer dispose of unwanted objects; Tue Greenfort’s Mobile Trinkglaswerkstatt (Mobile drinking glass workshop) turns nonreturnable glass bottles into drinking glasses. Finally, the works by Lia www.isaidif.net, Miltos Manetas www.jacksonpollock.org and Cornelia Sollfrank net.art-generator.com/ bring the “meta–art machine” of the World Wide Web into play, which, much like Tinguely’s work from the 1950s, is associated with a hope of a further democratization of the art world.

The relationship between the artist, the work of art, and the viewer is a theme in all these works, but it is not always their point of departure. In addition, the art machine makes it possible for the audience to participate as well as to mass produce works of art, which clearly breaks with the notion of the aura of the unrepeatable work of art. Although in some of these works the viewer is not directly involved in the production, he or she gains insight into it and hence has an opportunity to reflect on where the work of art begins. The artist will, however, never succeed in disappearing from the work definitively. The machine that produces art remains a tool, as long as it remains within the artist’s parameters. Only when it acts autonomously and reacts to situations self-sufficiently does the question of authorship change. The creativity of the art machine emerges only when its creation is uncontrolled and left to chance. The machine can produce without the artist being present, but it would not exist without the artist’s idea.

An exhibition at the Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt and the Museum Tinguely, Basel. Art Machines Machine Art will be shown at the Museum Tinguely, Basel from 5 March to 29 June 2008.

LIST OF ARTISTS: Pawel Althamer, Michael Beutler, Angela Bulloch, Olafur Eliasson, Tue Greenfort, Damien Hirst, Rebecca Horn, Jon Kessler, Tim Lewis, Lia, Miltos Manetas, Roxy Paine, Steven Pippin, Cornelia Sollfrank, Jean Tinguely, Antoine Zgraggen, and Andreas Zybach.

CATALOG: Art Machines Machine Art, ed. Katharina Dohm, Heinz Stahlhut, Max Hollein, and Guido Magnaguagno. With a foreword by Max Hollein and Guido Magnaguagno, Texts by Katharina Dohm and Heinz Stahlhut and Justin Hoffmann and extensive commentaries on the works. German-English edition, ca. 160 pages, ca. 130 color and black-and-white illustrations, hardcover, Kehrer Verlag, Heidelberg, ISBN 9 783939 583400.

CURATORS: Katharina Dohm (Schirn), Dr. des. Heinz Stahlhut (Museum Tinguely, Basel).


PRESS: Dorothea Apovnik (head), Gesa Pölert.
SCHIRN KUNSTHALLE FRANKFURT, Römerberg, D-60311 Frankfurt, Tel.: (+49-69) 29 98 82-118, Fax: (+49-69) 29 98 82-240
E-mail: presse@schirn.de, www.schirn.de
(Texts and images to download at PRESS).

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October 16, 2007

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