“JOB FROM MOLNAR”: Pioneering Computer-Generated Prints

Vera Molnár, Hypertransformation of 20 Concentric Squares (1974), ink on Benson plotter paper, 20 1/4 x 14 1/8 inches. Courtesy Senior & Shopmaker, New York.

Audiences new to Vera Molnár (b. 1924, Budapest) are often struck by the material ground of the artist’s early computer drawings. In Hypertransformation of 20 Concentric Squares (1974), for example, the viewer will notice that the edges of the paper have the uniform holes of pin-feed paper. While this mass-produced substrate was archival and lightweight, it was also thin, with a translucent onionskin surface that has warped and discolored with time. “Benson,” the name of the company that manufactured both the paper and the early flatbed plotter that drew the lines of Molnár’s image, is clearly registered on the paper’s edge, along with the firm’s location in suburban Paris, “Créteil.” Centered prominently above the image, and printed in an early computer typeface designed to be readable by both humans and machines, is the declarative phrase, “JOB FROM MOLNAR.” These elements—the pin-feed paper, the manufacturer’s mark and the computer-legible font—reflect the world of data processing and storage, or the science of “informatics” in the early 1970s, when the use of computing became increasingly widespread in the business world. Molnár’s computer drawings from the 1960s and ’70s are both historical artifacts that denote the dawning computer age, and evidence of a new, experimental form of image making—variant printmaking, in a sense—made possible by the IBM 370 mainframe computer, the early programming language FORTRAN, and the Benson plotter.

Become a subscriber to Art in Print to continue reading.

Subscriptions start at just $38 and include instant access to our digital archive.