Software: Information Technology: Its Meaning for Art at the New York Jewish Museum in 1970 took place in the interval between the decline of the industrial machine and the emergence of information technologies (computer, networks). To explore this epistemological rupture, curator Jack Burnham presented the results of scientific experiments, conducted by research teams and scientists, alongside projects born out of the conceptual art movement.
The exhibition’s title is related to the true sense of the word software, designating the flexibility of certain logical procedures and not exclusively the interaction of data with the machine to produce commands for executing specific functions.
By shifting the concept of program toward an artistic field, Burnham tried to draw parallels between projects relying on devices for transmitting information (fax machines, teleprinters, audiovisual systems), and those that used language as material without resorting to technology.
Fostering collaboration and dialogue between scientists and artists, this exhibition was also the product of an early exchange between the art museum and industry (American Motors Corporation sponsored the technical production and, at the request of the artists, several companies lent technological components to produce the works).
In the catalog essay for the exhibition, Jack Burnham used the body-machine-controlled-by-the-mind metaphor when he quipped: "our bodies are hardware, our behavior software."
Curated by Kynaston McShine, the Information exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art demonstrated the concept of systems analysis and its implications for art. Information explored groups of networks of interacting structures and channels as a functionally interrelated means of communication.
"McShine saw the vanishing point of the paradigm shift from the industrial age to the information society not in the electronic revolution per say but, rather, in a new "sense of mobility" and fast transmission in conjunction with the strong impact of visual imagery circulating "in the newspapers or periodicals, on television or in the cinema".
The computer was a natural metaphor for this exhibition. Agnes Denes, Hans Haacke, Les Levine, Dennis Oppenheim were among the artists who explored use of computer concepts in their works. This was one of the first exhibitions to espouse the reductive, Minimalist principles of Conceptual art where the idea is the total work (no object is produced). Information as art.
The exhibition presented videos and installations by 100 American and European artists (e.g. Vito Acconci, Art & Language, Daniel Buren, Jan Dibbets, Hans Haacke, Dennis Oppenheim, Edward Ruscha, Robert Smithson, or Jeff Wall).
It included an early example of dealing with publicly accessible archives within the context of an exhibition and some of the participating artists confronted the issues of political and media based contents: Haacke established MoMA Poll as a first link between the areas of politics and the museum by presenting an open poll on the way the Rockefeller family acted with regard to Nixon's plans in Indochina.
The activity of these artists is to think of concepts that are broader and more cerebral than the expected product of the studio. With the sense of mobility and change that pervades their time, they are interested in ways of rapidly exchanging ideas, rather than embalming the idea in an 'object.' However, the idea may reside on paper or film.
With an art world that knows more readily about current work, through reproductions and the wide dissemination of information via periodicals, and that has been altered by television, films and satellites, as well as the “jet,” it is now possible for artists to be truly international; exchange with their peers is now comparatively simple.
The art historian’s problem of who did what first is almost getting to the point of having to date by the hour. Increasingly artists use mail, telegrams, telex machines, etc., for transmission of works themselves—photographs, films, documents—or of information about their activity.
For both artists and their public it is a stimulating and open situation, and certainly less parochial than even five years ago.It is no longer imperative for an artist to be in Paris or New York. Those far from the “art centers” contribute more easily, without the often artificial protocol that at one time seemed essential for recognition.
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