Programmed: Rules, Codes, and Choreographies in Art, 1965–2018

Sept 28, 2018–Apr 14, 2019

Programmed: Rules, Codes, and Choreographies in Art, 1965–2018 establishes connections between works of art based on instructions, spanning over fifty years of conceptual, video, and computational art. The pieces in the exhibition are all “programmed” using instructions, sets of rules, and code, but they also address the use of programming in their creation. The exhibition links two strands of artistic exploration: the first examines the program as instructions, rules, and algorithms with a focus on conceptual art practices and their emphasis on ideas as the driving force behind the art; the second strand engages with the use of instructions and algorithms to manipulate the TV program, its apparatus, and signals or image sequences. Featuring works drawn from the Whitney’s collection, Programmed looks back at predecessors of computational art and shows how the ideas addressed in those earlier works have evolved in contemporary artistic practices. At a time when our world is increasingly driven by automated systems, Programmed traces how rules and instructions in art have both responded to and been shaped by technologies, resulting in profound changes to our image culture.

The exhibition is organized by Christiane Paul, Adjunct Curator of Digital Art, and Carol Mancusi-Ungaro, Melva Bucksbaum Associate Director for Conservation and Research, with Clémence White, curatorial assistant.

Please be warned this exhibition includes video and projection with a flashing light effect.

Programmed: Rules, Codes, and Choreographies in Art, 1965–2018 is sponsored by Audi

Major support is provided by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.

Generous support is provided by the Carl & Marilynn Thoma Art Foundation, the Korea Foundation and the Jon and Mary Shirley Foundation.

Additional support is provided by Hearst.

In-kind support is provided by the Hakuta Family.


Rule, Instruction, Algorithm:
Ideas as Form


Artists have long used instructions and abstract concepts to produce their work, employing mathematical principles, creating thought diagrams, or establishing rules for variations of color. Conceptual art—a movement that began in the late 1960s—went a step further, explicitly emphasizing the idea as the driving force behind the form of the work. In his “Paragraphs on Conceptual Art” (1967), Sol LeWitt wrote: “The plan would design the work. Some plans would require millions of variations, and some a limited number, but both are finite. Other plans imply infinity.” The works in this grouping—from Sol LeWitt’s large-scale wall drawing and Josef Albers’s series of nesting colored squares and rectangles to Lucinda Childs’s dances and Joan Truckenbrod’s computer drawings—all directly address the rules and instructions used in their creation. Essential to each is an underlying system that allows the artist to generate variable images and objects.


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Casey Reas, {Software} Structure #003 A

Casey Reas responds to Sol LeWitt’s concept that the idea is “a machine that makes art” by demonstrating that it is always true for works of software art. Reas generates and executes the drawing through programming, but, as with LeWitt’s early wall drawings, starts with a description in natural language: 

A surface filled with one hundred medium to small circles. Each circle has a different size and direction, but moves at the same slow rate. Display: 

A. The instantaneous intersections of the circles 

B. The aggregate intersections of the circles

In Structure #003A, the points moving on the screen are the center of each circle, while the lines connect the intersections of overlapping circles. Structure #003B gives viewers a different view of the structure by compressing changes over time into the same visual space; it is created using a process similar to taking a long-exposure photograph of Structure #003A and is continually changing, erasing, and redrawing while never repeating.

See this live on artport, the Whitney’s portal to Internet art.


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Histories of the Digital Now

By Christiane Paul, adjunct curator of digital art

Walk into any given gallery or museum today, and one will presumably encounter work that used digital technologies as a tool at some point in its production, whether videos that were filmed and edited using digital cameras and post-production software, sculptures designed using computer-aided design, or photographs as digital prints, to name just a few examples.

Read essay

Audio guides

“The hope was for me as an artist to lose control, and to have my control exist at the level of setting up the experiment.” —Ian Cheng

Hear directly from artists and curators on selected works from Programmed: Rules, Codes, and Choreographies in Art, 1965–2018.

View guide

Explore works from this exhibition
in the Whitney's collection

View 61 works

In the News

"How Artists Made Code Their Paintbrush"
Science Friday

"Tamiko Thiel’s 'Unexpected Growth' is an augmented reality installation on the future of oceans and climate change."

"The exhibit uses the Whitney’s own collection to explore how computational art has evolved and changed over the decades based on technology."

"Is a particularly urgent, relevant exhibition and a perfect setting in which to consider some of the most pressing questions of our time.”
Sotheby’s Museum Network

"Programmed explores the limits of code-based art, looking at past generations of computational art and illustrating how the ideas of earlier works have developed to form new contemporary styles.”

“From early mathematical works, to Generative art, to digital art in a variety of media, the works in Programmed take many forms.”
Art and Object 

"Artists play and experiment with algorithms and technology, working within limits but achieving effects greater than the sum of their codes or instructions. The duality at play in this exhibition is as separable as the wave and particle natures of light. To recognize only one explanation would be reductive; to see both is beautiful.”
Scientific American

“Paik captured both the allure and the futility of following events that happen so quickly they don't register before they're outdated.”