Dhe grid, the American art historian Rosalind Krauss once remarked in a clever essay, has paradoxically stood for originality since the early twentieth century, although its “copyright” had already expired in antiquity. Again and again artists approached this “figure of avant-garde art practice” as if this were the origin of aesthetic purity and freedom, yes, they discovered the “grid” as in an act of personal invention. In reality they are entering a “prison in which the imprisoned artist feels himself free”. In fact, the grid is a perennial favorite of modernism – from Hilma af Klint to Richter’s Cologne Cathedral window.
Vera Molnar discovered it as an approach for herself in the 1950s, when she lined up “Kreuz und X” with pencil and crayon. As a young artist, she still did this by hand, which is why each character looks different from the others and the lines swing slightly, and the order as a whole begins to buzz as soon as you look a little longer. With this simple vocabulary, the early Piet Mondrian had abstracted views of the sea and the pier. The artist, who was born in Budapest in 1924 and lives in Paris, did not reinvent the structure of the grid with her simple drawing, but opened a door for her practice: she used it to outline possibilities of doing something with the grid that liquefies its statics.
Consequently, in Paris in the 1950s, Molnar met a colleague like François Morellet, who had similar intuitions in the field of concrete art. While her husband François, as head of the Paris Center de Recherche Expérimentale et Informatique des Arts Visuelle, was conducting academic research on perception, she immersed herself artistically in the information aesthetics that Max Bense propagated in Ulm, and around 1974 she began programming and drawing on the computer to let. Frieder Nake and Georg Nees were already interested in this back then.
Simulation of human clumsiness
“Job from Molnar” stands above the most convincing sheets of her exhibition “Interruptions – Gaps”, which the Leopold Hoesch Museum is dedicating to the artist in a concentrated selection of works. The high-performance computer used the top line to note the print job, which at the time still took hours to print. It always held surprises for the artist, too. In 1974, Molnar and her husband wrote a program in “Fortran”, a programming language from the early days, to “break” the redundancy and monotony of a grid of small squares – without any personal, “romantic” handwriting.
The deviation, the coincidence, the unpredictable were calculated in their programs. It has a lot to offer the eye in sheets with titles such as “Very Small Disorder” and “2500 Trapeze A”. The squares rotate slightly out of the grid, seem to be speckled on the page, a “slight tremor”, according to Molnar, takes possession of them through the “simulation of human clumsiness” that they have injected into the program. In the language of cybernetics, the task was to “not assign the same probability of appearance” to the squares. All of these sheets are surprisingly vital in their reduced range of forms, animated by an anonymous spirit, extremely beautiful.
In the episode, Molnar experiments with the inkjet printer, deliberately overtaxing the machine, forcing it to make mistakes by intentionally feeding it too much ink, whereupon the nozzle applies the excess to paper in thick borders of black bars. In this way, dark strips are lined up, coloring the white of the paper in “overlapping arrangements” in different color depths. By no means a gimmick from yesterday, but a principle on which today’s internationally acclaimed artist like Wade Guyton builds his entire oeuvre. Molnar also incorporates handwriting – in the form of letters from her mother or Albrecht Dürer’s monogram – into her work, but then as an abstract reconstruction by the computer.
A photo from 2012 shows the artist, then approaching ninety, on the floor in the studio in front of her own designs. She still enriches her oeuvre with new ideas today. For Düren she developed a walk-in box with black light, in which a cut square glows green – like an echo chamber for Kasimir Malevich’s “Black Square”, in any case as evidence of unbroken energy.
Vera Molnar. Interruptions – gaps. Hoesch Museum, Düren; until 6.11. No catalogue.