HERBERT W. FRANKE | BERLIN
"People generally dismiss technology as a threat to art. I will attempt to demonstrate that it is not, and even opens up previously unimagined artistic territory." – Herbert W. Franke, 1957
EXPANDED. ART is pleased to present the solo exhibition CODED BEAUTY by Herbert W Franke in collaboration with the estate. The show is comprised of eight works from Franke’s series MATH ART, created between 1980 and 1995; early generative photographs from the 1950s; his Biennale serigraphy, including QUADRATE (1969/70); and further serigraphies. He held the belief that the beauty of structures shown in visual arts is founded on mathematical codes and spent a lifetime in search of them. In May 2022, Frank turned 95, and the world seems to have finally caught up with his art and thinking. His first NFT Drop, MATH ART, was sold out within 30 seconds, and he was the headliner at the Tezos Booth at Art Basel in 2023 with a work from 1979. Herbert W. Franke died on July 16, 2022, at the age of 95, leaving behind an extensive oeuvre.
Herbert W. Franke is a universal genius. For several decades, he separated three lives: the caver and scientist, the artist, curator and art theorist, and the science fiction author. Only on the occasion of his solo exhibition in 2010 at the ZKM Karlsruhe did he bring these three lives and careers together under the title WANDERER BETWEEN THE WORLDS. In the early 1950s, caving led him to experiment with light and technology. He kept his curiosity throughout his life; it was his drive to examine new technologies for their artistic potential. His pioneering spirit made him one of the first computer artists who was more than six decades ahead of his time.
In the 1950s, he started generating art based on mathematical principles, which led to his first pieces, LICHTFORMEN and OSZILLOGRAMME (created with an anlog computer), and finally used digital computer programs from the 1960s on. LICHTFORMEN are early examples of generative photography. In contrast to depicting photography, this is about the realization of Herbert W. Franke's abstract pictorial ideas – if you will, about visual inventions that show forms and structures that have not already existed but were first created or made visible by special technical means. Unlike the light graphics of the 1920s, it is about images that were systematically created under defined conditions. For the light forms, with the help of Andreas Hübner, a then-journeyman in the Siemens photo laboratory, mechano-optical self-constructions were used. The main instruments were white-painted, illuminated wires that were moved when the aperture was open. Motifs were created with a rotating disk set up in the foreground with free gaps through which the illuminated wire was recorded with an open aperture. The rotating disk leads to a stoboscopic effect. A special case were the so-called "spatial studies," in which the wire was not guided by hand but hung up and set in rotation. The background was illuminated by the projection of a light-dark line grid.
In 1970, Franke was represented at the Venice Biennale and showed a screen print of the series QUADRATE created with the digital computer, in which he let chance and algorithm work together. The square picture is made up of three types of elements that differ in size and color. They were distributed across the screen using a random number generator.
The number of elements in each of the three groups depends on the knowledge of information aesthetics, which shows which group deserves the most attention: the few large squares. And which is perceived as the dominant element of the picture: the medium-sized squares? The smallest elements, on the other hand, form the background, so to speak, and are given the least attention. The series was created with the IBM 1130 system at the Max Planck Institute for Psychiatry, Munich, developed by the Institute for Communications Engineering at the Technical University of Munich, and developed by the scientific project manager for development and construction, Prof. Dr.-Ing. Georg Färber. At that time, he was an assistant at the TU Institute.
In 1980, Herbert W. Franke began his fifteen-year collaboration with programmer Horst Helbig at the German Aerospace Center in Oberpfaffenhofen. Together, they studied mathematical disciplines in relation to aesthetics. The series MATH ART is the output of their research at the intersection of science and art. It reveals a universe of numbers transformed into images through a variety of shapes and colors reminiscent of Pop Art.
From the very beginning, it was clear to him that it is the artist's mission to examine new technologies and their social significance through the lens of their creative potential. For Herbert W. Franke mathematics are the essence of visual arts. While he saw the artist as an analytical maker using mathematics to create structures, he assigned the computer the task of modulating these principles of order through varying random processes. Franke, therefore, began to think of the computer as an artist's creative partner very early on.
"Many of the early pioneers did not dare call their work art and instead categorized it as design. But I just had nothing to lose." – Herbert W Franke
The color served to code certain structural elements, which was of fundamental importance. The computer system at DLR in Oberpfaffenhofen, which was powerful at the time, had integrated output equipment with which the digitally developed image worlds were transferred directly to high-resolution photo film. On his own DOS PC, Franke created the preparatory work for the captivatingly vivid aesthetics of this mathematical investigation. In the beginning, there were algebraic formulas for three-dimensional spatial areas: The three dimensions were converted mostly into two-dimensional landscapes, whereby the "contour lines," i.e., the z-axis of the room, were color-coded with specially developed color grids. Starting with algebraic landscapes, the two worked their way through a wide variety of disciplines via wave functions, Fourier transformations, broken dimensions, and logical connections until they finally visualized complex and irrational numbers as well as random processes and logical connections with their method.
CODED BEAUTY gives an overview of Franke’s belief in the artist’s mission to use technology to open up previously unimagined artistic territories.
Friedrichstrasse 67, 10117 Berlin
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