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Leo Villareal, Cosmic Reef, 2022 © Leo Villareal


Generative Art, Minimalism, and New Frontiers in System-Based Practices

Published Tuesday, Jun 21, 2022

The beginnings of generative art, which is primarily associated with digital mediums, are linked with the minimalist and conceptual movements of the 1960s and 1970s. Incorporating algorithmic processes that produce visual outcomes born of a combination of human control and computational chance, generative artworks of the 20th century and the present moment can be understood in relation to post-war artworks by Agnes Martin, Sol LeWitt, and other major figures within Pace Gallery’s program and legacy. The following explainer outlines the connections between generative art and Minimalism and how innovative digital artworks fit into the history of art.

The Emergence of Generative Art

The origins of generative art can be traced to the middle of the 20th century, a hugely experimental period during which traditional definitions of fine art were challenged and subverted. The term “generative art” encompasses works produced by way of semi- or fully autonomous processes. This approach to art making emerged amid the rise of Conceptualism, which foregrounded ethos and philosophical nuance in art making, and Minimalism, which eschewed realism in favor of abstract, often geometric compositions. Engaging with these ideas in the makeup and content of their work, generative art’s earliest practitioners include Harold Cohen, whose computer program AARON facilitated digital art making; Herbert Franke, a scientist and computer graphics pioneer who released his first-ever NFT in 2021; and Vera Molnar, whose early algorithmic explorations charted new frontiers in machine-based art.

Among the prominent figures in generative art making today are Tyler Hobbs, who often explores computational aesthetics; Casey Reas, who co-founded the open-source software Processing; Emily Xie, who has used algorithms and data to examine art historical subjects and phenomena in the natural world; and Keith Tyson, a Turner Prize-winning artist who created his “Art Machine” for algorithmically born artworks in the 1990s.


Installation view, Agnes Martin: The Distillation of Color, Pace Gallery, New York, Photography by Phoebe d'Heurle © 2022 Estate of Agnes Martin / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Formal Connections with Minimalism

Early and contemporary generative art, like minimalist works, often features geometric abstractions and illusionistic effects. While the generative artworks created today are more complex on a technological level—producing unique visual effects based on algorithmic sequences—they are in conversation with the aesthetic concerns of works of this kind from the latter half of the 20th century.

Through lines between generative art and Minimalism extend beyond a shared interest in methodical, mathematically minded production. Grids, geometry, and ineffable abstractions are central components of works by Martin, whose contemplative, introspective paintings illuminate the transcendent essence of the medium. LeWitt used repeated and progressive shapes, lines, and colors to express his ideas through a novel visual language. The practices of contemporary artists like Prabhavathi Meppayil, who draws on the history of Minimalism in her production of subtle, meticulous abstractions, can also be understood within this trajectory. Martin, LeWitt, Meppayil, and many more artists have used a minimalist vocabulary to propose new ways of seeing and relating to the world around us.

Generative artists have engaged with these aesthetic principles and expanded the possibilities of abstraction in the digital space, where kinetic, shapeshifting forms constitute limitless, regenerating worlds.


John Gerrard, Petro National (China), 2022 © John Gerrard / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Generative Art and Pace Gallery

With its distinguished 20th century program, Pace has long been a champion of artists’ system-based practices. Today, Pace continues building on this history with its commitment to supporting its artists’ advanced studio practices, which includes generative art making. As part of this effort, Pace Verso, the gallery’s Web3 hub, and Art Blocks, the leading platform for generative art, have joined forces to release boundary-pushing generative NFT projects by Pace’s artists as well as crypto-native artists.

The first project to be unveiled as part of this partnership is John Gerrard’s NFT series Petro National, which comprises 196 unique, generative works and addresses contemporary issues of oil consumption. For Petro National, Gerrard has engaged the potential of both spatial and temporal media online, and a generative process applied to the NFTs in the series creates a distinct environment in each work.

Earlier this year, Leo Villareal, who is also part of Pace’s program, debuted his first-ever NFT series, titled Cosmic Reef, with Art Blocks. Cosmic Reef draws on an infinite array of sequences, producing layered geometries that reflect the randomness, beauty, and synergy of the natural world.

Both Petro National and Cosmic Reef utilize complex algorithmic processes to bring mutable worlds to life. Just as minimalist artists forged mesmeric compositions of shapes, lines, and other abstract forms that conjure perceptual and sensorial disruptions, contemporary artists working in the generative space today are redefining the experiential potential of art once again.

  • Essays — Generative Art, Minimalism, and New Frontiers in System-Based Practices, Jun 21, 2022