The computer as artistic collaborator. Shows at IBM Gallery feature computer art and John Sloan works

A CIRCUS-LIKE extravaganza of visual and aural effects awaits the viewer at the IBM Gallery of Science and Art here. Everything from a water sculpture that responds to both programmed music and hand-clapping, to a drawing machine that creates images of plants and people, can be seen and experimented with in ``Computers and Art,'' a truly fascinating exhibition devoted to the computer and its importance in the making of art today. There are 141 works in all, including several collaborative pieces, by more than 150 painters, sculptors, architects, and video artists, all of whom have utilized computers at some point in the creative process. These works represent almost every stylistic approach, from traditional oil paintings to ``high-tech'' video and 3-D ``synthetic'' images, and include examples by, among others, Andy Warhol, Philip Pearlstein, Robert Rauschenberg, Larry Rivers, and Kenneth Noland.

``Computers and Art'' was curated by Cynthia Goodman and organized by the Everson Museum of Art in Syracuse, N.Y. Ms. Goodman was also responsible for the informative and profusely illustrated exhibition catalog, ``Digital Visions: Computers and Art,'' which was jointly published by the Everson Museum and Harry N. Abrams Inc.

Of special interest are 12 computer-controlled exhibits, 11 of which were designed specifically for the IBM Gallery. Among them are:

A laser projection installation by Paul Earls and Arkay Technologies Inc. that creates laser drawings that change shape and color in response to electronic music composed by Earls.

``Videoplace,'' a computer-controlled environment that detects the movement of an approaching person, analyzes that movement, and responds immediately with sound and a video image of the person. Among its numerous variations is one in which a small green outlined figure called ``Critter'' playfully eludes the viewer's attempts to catch it.

A video camera that records a visitor's face, which is then digitized and visualized on a computer screen. The participant can then use the computer to change the size, color, and position of his or her facial features and create a thermal print to take home.

``Living Fountain,'' which consists of three waterworks of varying shapes and heights, and whose fountain runs in two modes. For five minutes it responds to programmed music, and then for 10 minutes it responds to external sound stimuli such as whistling and hand-clapping. This permits visitors to intervene and change the pattern of the cycle.

Also on view are large, painting-like compositions either generated or modified by computers; stunning simulated mountain landscapes; computerized architectural designs; early examples of figure studies, abstractions, and portraits produced by computers in the 1960s; and almost any other kind of computer-generated image one can imagine.

After its closing at the IBM Gallery, 590 Madison Avenue, on June 18, this delightful, challenging, and informative exhibition travels to the Center for the Fine Arts in Miami.

Another exhibit, ``John Sloan: Spectator of Life,'' also at the IBM Gallery, would seem an odd choice for a companion show to a computer-art exhibition. After all, Sloan lived and worked during the first half of the century and limited himself exclusively to traditional drawing, printmaking, and painting methods. And furthermore, although he lived through one of art's most revolutionary periods, and was impressed by the Post-Impressionist and Cubist paintings he saw in the 1913 Armory Show, his own work was never seriously affected by modernist theory or example.

Nevertheless, it's an excellent exhibition that includes the largest number of Sloan's pictures to be shown in 36 years. It's also the first to examine in depth the relationships between his genre paintings, prints, and illustrations. It was organized by the Delaware Art Museum in Wilmington, and co-curated by Rowland Elzea and Elizabeth Hawkes.

Every significant aspect of Sloan's career is covered, beginning with his early illustrations, including some he did for the liberal magazine The Masses, and ending with several of his later, tightly composed figure and urban landscape paintings. Along the way the viewer is treated to many of his brilliant etchings, a large number of his most famous paintings executed while a member of the Ashcan School, and several oil studies.

This important exhibition of a major early 20th-century American artist has only one flaw: its lighting is much too dark, and puts altogether too much pressure on Sloan's paintings to compete successfully with the well-lighted and much more flamboyant computer works nearby.

After closing here June 18, the show travels to the Delaware Art Museum (July 15-Sept. 4); the Columbus Museum of Art (Sept. 17-Nov. 6); and the Amon Carter Museum, Fort Worth (Nov. 19-Jan. 1, 1989).

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