Herbert W. Franke was a scientist, writer and artist who made major contributions to computer graphics and early digital art, both as an artist, theorist, and curator. In 1971 he wrote the first comprehensive history of computer art, Computergraphik-Computerkunst.
Vienna (Austria), 1927 – Munich (Germany), 2022
Herbert W. Franke studied physics, mathematics, chemistry, psychology and philosophy at the University of Vienna, where he earned a PhD degree in Physics in 1950. From 1952 to 1957 he worked at Siemens AG and began practising experimental photography, creating pioneering compositions with an analog computer connected to a cathode-ray oscillograph, which prefigure digital computer graphics. He first publicly showed these artworks in 1956, and then in 1959 he presented his photographs in the exhibition Experimentelle Ästhetik, which took place at the Museum of Applied Arts in Vienna, later on travelling to Zurich, Munich, and London. This was the first time that an art museum exhibited electronically generated visual art in Europe. In the early 1960s he continued working on analog electronic graphics, creating series such as Tanz der Elektronen (1961-62), which includes photographic prints and an animated film. In 1969 he created his first plotter drawings at the Siemens research laboratory in Munich, some of which were shown in an experimental exhibition at the 35th Venice Biennale, alongside Frieder Nake and Georg Nees.
His contribution to electronic and digital art also extended to art theory and curating. He published one of the first books on computer graphics as art, titled Computergraphik-Computerkunst (Munich: Bruckmann, 1971) which includes the work of many algorithmic art pioneers. He was also a co-founder of Ars Electronica, one of the most veteran and prestigious digital art festivals worldwide, which takes place every year in Linz (Austria) since 1979. He curated many exhibitions on digital art, among which 25 Jahre Computerkunst – Grafik, Animation und Technik (BMW Pavillion in Munich, 1989), celebrating the historic exhibitions of computer art from 1965 through the works of many pioneering artists, such as Charles Csuri, Vera Molnar, Frieder Nake, Georg Nees, and A. Michael Noll, among others.
Herbert W. Franke passed away on July 16th, 2022. He was a celebrated science fiction writer, and one of the most notable art theorists on computer art, whose work encompasses numerous essays and books. Additionally, as a collector he put together an outstanding collection of early computer art that is currently kept at the Kunsthalle Bremen. In his later years, numerous exhibitions, talks, and panel discussions took place to honor his professional achievements. He was and remains respected and celebrated figure of early digital art.