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Any Grid

Random Grids

The arbitrary grid, chosen at random from the set of all grids, functions as a symbol: it represents the whole set of possibilities. But it also demonstrates the equivalence of all these possibilities: the image displayed by the randomly sampled pixel configuration is noise. (If the resolution is high enough, the random grid turns into a grey or brown monochrome.)



Jean Arp

Collages arrangées selon les lois du hasard, 1916/1917

The titles of these collages indicate that they were "arranged according to the laws of chance". The question is what this means. With one single exception, all texts we found about these works suggest that they are "scatter-pieces", produced by throwing paper pieces at random on the cardboard, and then fixing them accordingly. (E.g.: Brecht, Huelsenbeck, Richter, MoMa, Motherwell.) A quick glance on the works themselves is enough to establish that this is extremely implausible. The rectangles are obviously arranged in grid-like patterns, and their orientation is aligned with the grid. It is more likely that the paper scraps would have been shuffled like a deck of cards and then laid out in a grid, one by one, respecting the random order of the pile.

[Jill Pazereckas, in the 2006 exhibition review "MoMa goes Dada", also argues against the usual description of these pieces.]


Ellsworth Kelly

Spectrum Colors
Arranged by Chance
VI, 1951

Spectrum Colors
Arranged by Chance
VII, 1951

Sixty-Four Panels:
Colors for a Large Wall, 1951

Yve-Alain Bois: Ellsworth Kelly: The Early Drawings, 1948-1955. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Art Museums, 1999, # 110-116.

J. Cowart: "Method and motif: Ellsworth Kelly's 'chance' grids and his development of color panel painting, 1948-1951," pages 37-45 of Ellsworth Kelly: The Years in France. 1948-1954, National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1992.  


Ray Johnson

Johnson: Calm Center

Calm Center, 1951

Ray Johnson's early painting "Calm Center" is a recursive grid. Its elements are random grids, stripes, nested squares, and various combinations of these. The center is a black square.




François Morellet

6 répartitions aléatoires, 1958

Répartition aléatoire de triangles
suivant les chiffres pairs et impairs
d'un annuaire de téléphone, 1958.

Répartition aléatoire de 40 000 carrés,
50 % noir, 50 % blanc, 1961
[detail; click for complete picture]

François Morellet: Exhibition Catalogue Nationalgalerie Berlin, 1977, pp. 147-150.

Paul C. Vitz & Arnold B. Glimcher: Modern art and modern science: the parallel analysis of vision. New York: Praeger, 1984.


Karl-Otto Götz

Statistisch-Metrische Modulation,

Statistisch-Metrische Modulation,

Statistisch-Metrische Modulation,
1961 (detail)

K.O. Götz: "Elektronische Malerei und ihre Programmierung." Das Kunstwerk, Juni 1961.

K.O. Götz: "Das manipulierte Bild." Magnum, April 1963.

K.O. Götz: "Was ist am Bild meßbar? Möglichkeiten und Grenzen der Informationstheorie." Syn, 1965.

K.O. Götz: Erinnerungen und Werk, Vol. II. Düsseldorf: Concept-Verlag, 1983.

Heinz Ohff: Kunst ist Utopie. Gütersloh: Bertelsmann, 1972, pp. 132-134, 217.



herman de vries

random objectivation, 1963

random objectivation (chance collage), 1970
[33 x 33 squares with colors, chosen
at random from a set of 8]

terre provençale, 1991

[rubbings with earth from different
locations in the provence]


Ryszard Winiarski

Kompozycja, 1966

Kompozycja, 1968

Area 156, 1973 (Detail)



Gerhard Richter

1024 Farben, 1973

192 Farben

256 Farben, 1974

1024 Farben



Online program generating random pixel grids

Andreas Fünderich: Squares, 2000.



Interactive programs

     In 2002, Aaron Neugebauer submitted the JavaScript-program PixelPaint to the <5k internet-software-contest. PixelPaint is an interactive program which enables its user to specify an image by choosing the colours of the individual cells in a grid.
      A pixel-paint program is obviously not the ideal image-construction tool for most purposes: it is not particularly efficient or convenient, nor does it provide a very interesting "interactive experience". And for the rare occasions that one actually does want to manipulate individual pixels, that functionality is readily offered by common graphic tools such as PhotoShop. Thus, PixelPaint is probably best viewed as a primarily conceptual piece.

If we do not try to use PixelPaint to construct specific preconceived images, but reflect on the set of its potential outcomes, the program itself becomes a symbol –– representing a seemingly limitless set of possibilities, while paradoxically emphasizing the finite constructability of each element and of the sequence of all elements.

[Cf. also: Blinkenpaint (2001) by the Blinkenlights Project Group.]


Compiled by Remko Scha, 2003-2006