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:
Collapsing Instruction and Form


Lawrence Weiner and Joseph Kosuth, both leading figures of Conceptual art, use language as their material to highlight the linguistic nature of all art and to shift emphasis from the object to the idea behind it. W. Bradford Paley’s more recent digital work also makes language its material but by displaying the code that generates his work. The pieces by these three artists all consist of the very instructions through which they have been created, self-reflexively erasing oppositions between form and content and folding them into one. Paley’s work draws attention to the fact that digital art—regardless of its visual appearance—always has a layer of code and is produced by the software used to create or manipulate it.

W. Bradford Paley, CodeProfiles, 2002

CodeProfiles looks at the computer program as text and visually comments on how code is read by people, written by programmers, and executed by computers. Reflecting on its own construction, the work consists of the code that makes the code visible on the screen. Three points in code space are indicated: the amber line follows the fixation point, tracing how people might read the text, line by line; the white line follows the insertion point and flows like the programmer’s thoughts, calmly in one place then jumping around to make other parts of the code perform; and the green line moves along the execution point of the program, creating wide swaths where the code was executed thousands of times and appearing as a thin thread where the processor rarely visited. W. Bradford Paley thereby foregrounds the conceptual nature of all digital art, which is always driven by a language formulating instructions.


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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.

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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.”