Portrait of Joseph Nechvatal (2015) by Zack Garlitos



Joseph Nechvatal

Biographical Background

(in French below)


Joseph Nechvatal (born in Chicago in 1951) is an American post-conceptual artist currently living in Paris who creates virus-modeled artificial life computer-assisted paintings and digital animations. Themes he has addressed in his art include the apocalyptic, communication excess, the virus, and gender fluidity. For more specific details, see his itemized CV and his extensive 2015 interview at The Brooklyn Rail here.


Nechvatal graduated Hinsdale Central High School in 1969. He then studied fine art and philosophy at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale (BFA 1973), and did masters work at Cornell University (1974) and Columbia University (1975). In 1975, Nechvatal moved to the downtown Tribeca area of New York City. He began studying at Columbia University with the philosopher Arthur Danto while working for the Dia Art Foundation as archivist to the minimalist composer La Monte Young.


In 1980, he moved from Tribeca to the sordid Lower East Side where he found artistic camaraderie and politically inspired creative energy. There he became closely associated with Collaborative Projects (Colab), the influential post-punk artists group that included Kiki Smith and Jenny Holzer, among others. Those were glory days for the famous Colab projects, such as Just Another Asshole, The Real Estate Show and The Times Square Show. He also helped establish the non-profit cultural space ABC No Rio, where exhibitions were animated by political purpose.


In the early 1980s, his art consisted of dense post-minimalist gray graphite drawings (that were sometimes photo-mechanically enlarged), of sculpture, of photographs, and of musique concrte audio collages.  


In 1983, he co-founded the famous avant-garde art music project Tellus Audio Cassette Magazine. He chose the name Tellus from Tellus Mater: the ancient Roman earth-mother goddess of fecundity.


In 1984, he created an opera called XS: The Opera Opus (1984-6) with the no wave musical composer Rhys Chatham that was presented in Boston and in New York.


In 1986, Nechvatal began using computer-robotics to make conceptual paintings. Some were exhibited at Documenta VIII in 1987.  


In 1992, when he was artist-in-residence at the Louis Pasteur Atelier in Arbois and at the Saline royale dArc-et-Senans, he created computer virus codes that he used as an artistic tool for his Computer Virus Project I. This work was a reflection on his personal experiences of risk and loss with the AIDS epidemic. 


In 1995, at the urging of Pierre Restany, he moved to Paris and began splitting his time between Paris and New York.   


In 1999, partially supported by Maja Hoffmann, he earned his Ph.D. in the philosophy of aesthetics and technology in England and soon wrote two art theory books: Towards an Immersive Intelligence and Immersion Into Noise.  


In 2002 he extended his experimentation into viral artificial life through a collaboration with the programmer Stephane Sikora in a work called the Computer Virus Project II, inspired by the a-life work of John Horton Conway (particularly Conways Game of Life), by the general cellular automata work of John von Neumann, by the genetic programming algorithms of John Koza, by the work of John Cage and Marcel Duchamp, and by the auto-destructive art of Gustav Metzger. These works include various series of computer-robotic assisted paintings, digital animations, and a lengthy audio composition entitled viral symphOny, among others audio works. Since, he has created a series of virus-based themed exhibitions of artificial life paintings and animation projections that explore the fragility and fluidity of the human body.


From 1999 to 2013, Nechvatal taught art theories of immersive virtual reality and the viractual (his term) at the School of Visual Arts in New York City (SVA). In 2014 he published (as editor) a book and CD/cassette tape with Punctum Books and Punctum Records on the noise music artist Miny and in 2015 he published with Punctum Books a collection of his farcical erotic poetry entitled Destroyer of Naivets. Nechvatal has regularly been publishing his art criticism and art book reviews at Hyperallergic, Whitehot Magazine of Contemporary Art, The Brooklyn Rail and Artforum.





In 2003, in Art in America, Joe Lewis wrote:


In the artist/theorist tradition of Robert Smithson, Joseph Nechvatal is a pioneer in the field of digital image making who challenges our perceptions of nature by altering conventional notions of space and time, gender, and self. (...) Nechvatal successfully plunged into the depths where art, technology and theory meet.



The Joseph Nechvatal archive is housed at The Fales Library (Downtown Special Collection) at N.Y.U. in New York City

Recorded and printed interviews, audio works and key texts are archived on the web here at Internet Archive Org https://archive.org/

Collected Nechvatal essays and reviews published at Hyperallergic can be accessed here

Collected Nechvatal interviews and reviews published at The Brooklyn Rail here

Collected Nechvatal essays and reviews at published Whitehot Magazine can be accessed here

Web archives of papers by and on Nechvatal can be accessed here at academia.edu




Published References


* John Johnston, The Allure of Machinic Life: Cybernetics, Artificial Life, and the New AI, MIT Press, 2008, cover by Joseph Nechvatal

* Donald Kuspit, The Matrix of Sensations VI: Digital Artists and the New Creative Renaissance

* Joline Blais and Jon Ippolito, The Edge of Art, Thames & Hudson Ltd, p. 213

* Frank Popper, From Technological to Virtual Art, MIT Press, pp. 120123

* Johanna Drucker, Joseph Nechvatal : Critical Pleasure, Redaktion Frank Berndt, 1996, pp. 1013

* Robert C. Morgan, Voluptuary: An algorithic hermaphornology, Tema Celeste Magazine, volume #93, p. 94

* Bruce Wands, Art of the Digital Age, London: Thames & Hudson, p. 65

* Robert C. Morgan, Laminations of the Soul, Editions Antoine Candau, 1990, pp. 2330

* Margot Lovejoy, Digital Currents: Art in the Electronic Age, Routledge 2004

* Mario Costa, Phenomenology of New Tech Arts, Artmedia, Salerno, 2005, p. 6 & pp. 36 38

* Dominique Moulon, Lart numerique: spectateur-acteuret vie artificielle, Les images numeriques #47-48, 2004, pp. 124125

* Christine Buci-Glucksmann, Lart lpoque virtuel, in Frontires esthtiques de lart, Arts 8, Paris: LHarmattan, 2004

* Brandon Taylor, Collage, Thames & Hudson Ltd, 2006, p. 221

* Dominique Moulon, Media Art in France, Un Point dActu, LArt Numerique, pp. 124125

* Edmond Couchot, Des Images, du temps et des machines, dit Actes Sud, 2007, pp. 263264

* Fred Forest, Art et Internet, Editions Cercle DArt / Imaginaire Mode dEmploi, pp. 48 51

* Wayne Enstice & Melody Peters, Drawing: Space, Form, & Expression, New Jersey: Prentice Hall, pp. 312313

* Ellen K. Levy, Synthetic Lighting: Complex Simulations of Nature, Photography Quarterly (#88) 2004, pp. 79

* Marie-Paule Ngre, Des artistes en leur monde, volume 2 of la Gazette de lHotel Drout, 2008, pp. 8283

* Corrado Levi, andata cos: Cronaca e critica dellarte 1970-2008, Joseph Nechvatal intervistato nel suo studio a New York (198586), pp. 130135

* Donald Kuspit, Del Atre Analogico al Arte Digital in Arte Digital Y Videoarte, Kuspit, D. ed., Consorcio del Circulo de Bellas Artes, Madrid, pp.3334 & pp. 210 212

* Robert C. Morgan, Nechvatals Visionary Computer Virus, in Gruson, L. ed. 1993. Joseph Nechvatal: Computer Virus Project, Royal Saltworks at Arc-et-Senans: Fondation Claude-Nicolas Ledoux, pp. 815

* Sarah J. Rogers (ed), Body Mcanique: Artistic Explorations of Digital Realms, Columbus, Ohio, Wexner Center for the Arts, The Ohio State University

* Edward A. Shanken, Art and Electronic Media. London: Phaidon, 2009, pp. 42, 285, 160





Biographical Background in French


Joseph Nechvatal (n Chicago en 1951) est un artiste post conceptuel vivant Paris. Il cre des tableaux et animations laide dune simulation de vie artificielle de virus modeliss par ordinateur.


Les thmes abords dans son oeuvre incluent : lapocalypse, les excs de la communication, les virus, la fluidite de genre.


En 1975 il dmnage de Chicago NewYork (Tribeca). Il entame des tudes luniversit de Columbia avec le philosophe Arthur Danto tout en travaillant pour la Dia Art Foundation comme archiviste pour le compositeur de musique minimale La Monte Young.


En 1980 il quitte Tribeca pour le Lower East Side o il trouve une camaraderie artistique et une nergie cratrice inspire du politique. Il devient etroitement li au groupe Collaborative Projects (Colab), collectif influent dartistes post-punk, incluant notamment Kiki Smith et Jenny Holzer. Ce sont les jours de gloire des clbres projets du groupe ColabJust Another AssholeThe Real Estate ShowThe Times Square Show. Il contribue galement mettre en place dans le Lower East Side lespace culturel but non lucratif ABC No Rio o ont lieu des expositions penses autour de thmes politiques.


Pendant cette priode son oeuve se compose de dessins postminimalistes la mine de plomb (quelquefois issus dagrandissement photo), de sculptures, de photographies, de morceaux de Musique concrte composs de collages audio.


En 1983, il est lun des co-fondateurs du clbre projet musical et sonore davant-gardeTellus Audio Cassete Magazine.


En 1984, il travaille avec le compositeur Rhys Chatham du courant No Wave sur un opra intitul XS: The Opera Opus. Cet opra a ete present entre 1984-1986 New York et Boston.


En 1986 il a commenc utiliser linformatique et la robotique pour crer des peintures conceptulles dont certaines ont et exposes lors de Documenta VIII.


En 1992, il devient artiste en rsidence latelier Louis Pasteur et la Saline Royale dArc-et-Senans o il dveloppe des programmes de virus informatiques quil utilise comme outil artistique. Ce travail traduit ses rflexions sur lpidmie du SIDA.


En 1995, encourag vivement par Pierre Restany, il sinstalle Paris. Il partage alors sa vie entre Paris et New York.


En 1999, il obtient en Angleterre son doctorat en philosophie. Il crit deux ouvrages sur la thorie de lart : Towards an Immersive Intelligence et Immersion Into Noise.


Depuis 2001, il tend ses exprimentations sur le virus en tant quinstrument artistique et pictural dans une srie de travaux sur la vie artificielle. Ces travaux comprennent plusieurs sries de peintures, animations, et une composition audio: viral symphOnyIl continue actuellement dexplorer la fragilit et la fluidit du corps humain.