by Andreas Broeckmann. MIT Press, January 2017. 392 p. ill. ISBN 9780262035063 (h/c), $45.00.
Reviewed May 2017
Machine art is readily conflated with computer art, digital art, new media art, and cybernetic art, among other forms of art and technology, but what differentiates it from the rest? In Machine Art in the Twentieth Century, author Andreas Broeckmann disambiguates the term and its multiple applications throughout the twentieth century, and the various groups and movements who have defined machine art for their own purposes and produced their own oeuvre under the moniker. Machine art’s relationship to aesthetics, algorithms, vision, bodies and ecologies is detailed through chapters focused on each theme.
In service of his thematic and historical explorations, Broeckmann analyzes in detail the work of Jean Tinguely, Lazlo Moholy-Nagy, David Rokeby, Julien Maire, and Stelarc, and incorporates important art historical moments such as the 1934 Metropolitan Museum of Art show Machine Art, and the 1968 Museum of Modern Art show The Machine as Seen at the End of the Mechanical Age. Broeckmann addresses candidly the lack of women artists in the field, which is certainly reflected in the artists he analyzes in the book. One may furthermore point out the lack of artists from areas other than Europe, the United States, and Australia. Critical apparatus include those of biopolitics, post-structuralism, new media theory, and posthumanism. Surprisingly, given the prevalence of discussion figuring the machine as a tool, there is no mention of Martin Heidegger’s work.
Machine Art is the latest from the Leonardo series published by MIT Press, a series that has produced several dozen tomes of both monographic and edited volumes addressing art’s intersections with science and technology, such as new media, cinema, video, sound, and bioart. The book is advanced but legible for a general well-educated audience - faculty may comfortably assign sections to advanced undergraduates, and undoubtedly, graduate students studying these areas would readily include this volume in their reading lists. The writing is dense but flows well. The design, physical structure, and paper is high quality, with black and white in-line illustrations in addition to color plates. The book has an extensive bibliography and highly granular index.
Along with Duke University Press and University of Minnesota Press, MIT Press enjoys a well-deserved reputation for cutting edge, critically-inflected, interdisciplinary scholarship on the arts across media. Machine Art will undoubtedly be a valued addition to the libraries of scholars across the fields of art and new media.