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"The Machine as Seen at the End of the Mechanical Age" : An Art Exhibition (November 27, 1968 – February 9, 1969)


Swedish art collector and curator K. G. Pontius Hultén curated and wrote the catalogue for The Machine as Seen at the End of the Mechanical Age, an exhibition at The Museum of Modern Art, New York, from November 27, 1968 to February 9, 1969. This was a landmark exhibition on the history of the machine in its relationship to art from the Renaissance to 1968; or as the editor stated, it was "a collection of comments on technology by artists of the Western world" (p. 3). The art reproduced and described in the catalogue— including much that was radical for its time—was mainly in traditional media such as prints or paintings, sculptural or mechanical, with a few electro-mechanical items, and one example of laser art.

Only the last two items in the exhibition were examples of computer graphics, the first of which was a digitized and pixilated image of a reclining nude, entitled "The Nude," executed in 1966 Leon D. Harman and Kenneth C. Knowlton, researchers at Bell Labs. "Knowlton relates how they tossed a coin to determine who would be listed in the museum catalogue as the 'artist' (Harmon) and as the 'engineer' (Knowlton)" (Noll, First Hand: Early Digital Art at Bell Telephone Laboratories, Inc, accessed 01-19-2014).  Creation of "The Nude" as shown in a five foot by twelve enlargement was discussed in a New York Times article by Henry R. Lieberman entitled "Art and Science Proclaim Alliance in Avant-Garde Loft," October 11, 1967.

That the show took place only a month after the pioneering computer art show, Cybernetic Serendipity, closed in London, was probably a coincidence.

The design and production of the catalogue was unusually excellent, including a very striking binding of aluminum sheeting with a stamped enamel-painted design of the MOMA building on the upper cover.

In January 2014 all the press release documents, including detailed information about art exhibited, were available from the Museum of Modern Art website at this link.