Vera Molnar - Ex-Machina: A History of Generative Art London Wednesday, July 13, 2022 | Phillips

Create your first list.

Select an existing list or create a new list to share and manage lots you follow.

  • By Francesca Franco


    Classically trained painter and pioneer of computer art Vera Molnar has been challenging the conventional values of painting of her time, foregrounding artistic experimentation for over 80 years.


    Inspired by the notion of combining the humanities and science as expressed in Max Bense’s Information Aesthetics in the mid-1950s, Molnar’s work has been primarily based on abstraction and geometry. Molnar has explored the purity of abstraction derived from the constructivist tradition and has taken it to new unexplored levels throughout her career.


    From the late 1950s and for over a decade she developed the concept of the “Imaginary Machine”, in search for a logic system that would generate new images. Through this notion, Molnar was able to rigorously define the process of her thinking and to mentally run a limited, but exhaustive, series of calculations that would be then translated into drawings executed by hand by the artist. It was from the late 1960s, when the computer became accessible to a number of research institutions in France, that Molnar was able to finally replace her “imaginary machine” with a “real” one, making her one of the pioneers of computer-generated art. Her first computer generated artworks were drawings and paintings based on simple combinations of lines or geometric shapes such as squares and rectangles, as in her seminal series (Dés)Ordres (1974). This title was later replaced by Tribute to Barbaud, in honour of her late friend, the French computer-music composer Pierre Barbaud, who inspired her in applying a logic procedure and a set of generative rules encoded in algorithms to her compositions, which were executed by a computer.


    The exceptional artwork presented here, (Dés)Ordres (1974), clearly sums up the thinking of the artist behind the work she developed at that time. The artwork is a rare set of nine computer plotter drawings spread over a continuous roll of computer paper measuring five meters in length. It explores the idea of the repetition of a square, each formed of five concentric squares, arranged in grid of five squares by five, making a total of twenty-five squares. In its simplicity, the square, a perfect and regular shape, represents to Molnar the idea of order. In her long and prolific career she has explored its symmetry and has applied a number of elements of distortion - or disorder - to it, which animate her compositions through what she loves to call, a “breath of air” (a souffle dair)i. In this regard, she likes to quote the words from Baudelaire's preface to Les Fleurs du mal (Flowers of Evil): "Monotony, symmetry, surprise”, which to her perfectly sum up her thinking, with a touch of wit that distinguishes Molnar so well.


    Looking at the small sudden mutations that each square produces, and comparing the different variations that each grid of twenty-five squares reveal on successive variations, generates, as Molnar recalls, “an exciting visual dialogue that creates surprise. It is the purpose of my life to create surprises, for myself first of all”ii.


    This particular work exquisitely illustrates the artist's desire to create surprise by using several methods, through a step-by-step process. One of them is, for example, to make a set of squares disappear from the drawing. Another method is to offset each square by a chosen value that follows the coordinate axis, either upwards or downwards. These elements of disturbance gradually end up transforming these squares into irregular quadrilaterals. Speaking of this particular work, Molnar recalls: “One of the questions that most interested me when I created this series was to look at how much disorder I needed to program into the tops of the squares to make them look like perfect squares, without them being really perfect. In other words, the surprise created by the uncertainty”iii.


    This powerful historical work demonstrates how the joy and surprise of generating and discovering exciting new forms has stimulated Molnar’s imagination and creativity over the decades. The unexpected results of her lively dialogue with the machine create in turn a constant surprise that never ceases to amaze us.


    Interview with Vera Molnar on 22 May 2022 by Bernard Chauveau.

    ii Interview with Vera Molnar on May 2017 by Francesca Franco.

    iii Interview with Vera Molnar on 22 May 2022 by Bernard Chauveau.



    • Provenance

      The artist's studio, Paris



inscribed '9 DESSINS SUR 1 ROULEAU' upper left and signed, titled and dated 'V. MOLNAR (DES)ORDRES 1974' lower right
computer-generated graphic ink on Benson plotter paper
496 x 35.9 cm (195 1/4 x 14 1/8 in.)
Executed in 1974, this work is unique.

Full Cataloguing

£80,000 - 100,000 

Sold for £100,800

Contact Specialist

Benjamin Kandler
Project Lead for Digital Art, Phillips
+44 7393 141 146

Alexis Chompaisal
NFT Manager

Ex-Machina: A History of Generative Art

Online Auction 13-20 July 2022