Charlene Spretnak on Joseph Nechvatal

and The Spiritual Dynamic in Modern Art



From the book

  The Spiritual Dynamic in Modern Art : Art History Reconsidered, 1800 to the Present



Charlene Spretnak


Palgrave Macmillan


(text on page135)




Figure 13

Joseph Nechvatal, Out Of shadOw : disavOwel, 2009 triptych computer-robotic assisted acrylic on canvas 20 x 60” Courtesy of Galerie Richard, New York & Paris

(Figure 13 is in b/w in the book)


“The painter and theorist Joseph Nechvatal (b. 1951) believes that the purely abstract art of past decades is “a played out trope” but that “a scientific spirituality has never been sought after in art.”i He regards the spiritual dimension of existence as “an embedded immanence of nature and materiality” in the “full vibratory spectrum,” which far exceeds the human limits of perception.ii Nechvatal, whose primary influence is Duchamp, is hardly alone in seeing the open-ended possibilities of art as an intriguing means of engaging with this situation, but he feels that each historical period must bring its own experience to bear: for our time, Nechvatal asserts, the exploration by art of the more-than-human reality must combine the biological with the technological. (…)

Nechvatal proposes that a virtual (or viractual, as he prefers) spiritual art may achieve “an ultimate phantasmal integration by dissolving recorded information into its original vibrational and dynamic foundation.”iii To explore this possibility, he creates a complex process that includes drawing, digital photography, painting, written language, and computer code; these elements are mixed and undergo computational manipulations (which include computer viruses) and are then painted with acrylic paint on canvas by means of a robot (see Figure 13), The results are ethereal works of voluptuous patterns, modulated coloration, and a sense  of depth derived from layers of near-transparency – a gestalt the art critic Carlo McCormick has called “a hyper-sensory sublime.”iv Paintings by Nechvatal, who lives in New York and Paris, have been collected by major museums in Europe and the United States. He also co-created a music and art performance piece, XS: The Opera Opus (1984-1986), and has written two books: Towards an Immersive Intelligence (2009) on the emergent sensibility he calls viractualism, and Immersion Into Noise (2011) on his theory of immersive art-noise consciousness.”




i Nechvatal, in Nechvatal, postings in the Beyond Kandinsky online symposium, School of Visual Arts, 30 March 2011; retrieved from on Feb. 21, 2014.

ii Nechvatal, in Taney Roniger, “An Interview with Joseph Nechvatal,” Concatenations Forum, Feb. 26, 2012; retrieved from on Feb. 21, 2014.

iii Nechvatal, Beyond Kandinsky symposium.

iv McCormick, “On the Ecstatic Excess of Joseph Nechvatal,” a revised version of a review in Artforum, 1989; retrieved from on Feb. 20, 2014.

v Nechvatal, “Emergence of the New Paradigm: Viractuality,” La Cube Revue, 1, Oct. 2011; retrieved from on Feb. 20, 2014.