Photo Essays

These Computer Microchip Drawings Are Amazingly Intricate Abstractions

IMEC, Diagram of Neural Net: Foveated, Retina-like Sensor, Corresponding Silicon Microchip (1989), computer-generated plot on paper and silicon, .1: 36 1/4 x 36 1/4"
IMEC, Diagram of Neural Net: Foveated, Retina-like Sensor, Corresponding Silicon Microchip (1989), computer-generated plot on paper and silicon, .1: 36 1/4 x 36 1/4″ (all images courtesy the Museum of Modern Art)

A few weeks ago, I went to the Museum of Modern Art to finally see Trisha Donnelly’s Artist’s Choice show. Donnelly is the tenth artist to participate in the series, which involves the museum allowing someone to dig around in its collection and create an exhibition out of whatever pieces he or she likes. Donnelly’s selections are framed less as a unified, cohesive exhibition and more as offshoots of the permanent galleries, with three scattered rooms given over to her  curatorial whims on the fourth and fifth floors. When I was there, viewers wandered in easily, often not realizing they had strayed from the prescribed permanent collection path.

I visited the two rooms on the fifth floor first, and though I enjoyed them, it was my final stop that stuck with me. Stepping into the small room tucked away in the back of the fourth floor, I was bowled over by a number of large abstract drawings, each of them comprised of incredibly intricate patterns of lines and shapes. They were colorful and vivid and looked inhuman. In fact, they were. These were computer-generated diagrams of microchips, all of them blown up to at least a few feet wide or tall. At that scale, the familiar microchip patterns gave way to mesmerizing networks of lines and color. I couldn’t help but wonder what led to the acquisition of these — historical significance, aesthetics, or both?

MoMA has kindly shared a few of the diagrams here, and you can begin to get a sense of their awesomeness. But they’re best seen in person, where their intricacies become even more apparent. Good thing the show is on view through July.

AT&T Bell Laboratories, Detail of Microprocessor (CRISP) Diagram (1986), ink on paper,  36 1/4 x 49 1/2"
AT&T Bell Laboratories, Detail of Microprocessor (CRISP) Diagram (1986), ink on paper, 36 1/4 x 49 1/2″
Texas Instruments, Inc., Diagram of a Dynamic Random-Access Memory Chip (DRAM), Corresponding Microchip (1985), computer-generated plot on paper and silicon, 75 3/4 x 30 1/2"
Texas Instruments, Inc., Diagram of a Dynamic Random-Access Memory Chip (DRAM), Corresponding Microchip (1985), computer-generated plot on paper and silicon, 75 3/4 x 30 1/2″
Intel Corporation, Diagram of Erasable Programmable Read-Only Memory Chip (EPROM)  (1986), computer-generated plot on paper, .1: 42 1/4 x 42 3/8" framed
Intel Corporation, Diagram of Erasable Programmable Read-Only Memory Chip (EPROM) (1986), computer-generated plot on paper, .1: 42 1/4 x 42 3/8″ framed
Sam Lucente, Diagram of Dynamic Random-Access Memory Chip (DRAM) (1984), manufacturer: IBM, computer-generated plot on paper, 42 5/16 x 35"
Sam Lucente, Diagram of Dynamic Random-Access Memory Chip (DRAM) (1984), manufacturer: IBM, computer-generated plot on paper, 42 5/16 x 35″
Hewlett-Packard Company, Diagram of Central Processing Unit Chip (Microprocessor) (1987), computer-generated plot on paper, 36 x 33 3/4"
Hewlett-Packard Company, Diagram of Central Processing Unit Chip (Microprocessor) (1987), computer-generated plot on paper, 36 x 33 3/4″

Artist’s Choice: Trisha Donnelly continues at the Museum of Modern Art (11 West 53rd Street, Midtown, Manhattan) through July 28.

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