Frank Popper

French art historian

Frank Popper (17 April 1918 – 12 July 2020) was a French historian of art and technology and Professor Emeritus of Aesthetics and the Science of Art at the University of Paris VIII.

Frank Popper in 2006.


  • Roy Ascott... aimed to achieve a wider 'cybernetic' awareness through acting on the psychology of the spectator, who was invited to regroup the elements of the technological universe and exploit certain of its meanings.
    • Frank Popper (1975). Art: Action and Participation, p. 11
  • As far as the sensory experience of the spectator goes, the most outstanding American kinetic artist is unquestionably the Chinese-born Wen-Ying Tsai. His pieces, which are perfect on the technological level, serve the primary purpose of giving a complete visual experience to the spectator, whose sound solicitations provoke a choreographic, chromatic and rhythmic response in the ‘cybernetic sculptures’. [...]
György Kepes has commented enthusiastically on the ‘magic rhythms emanating from this swaying, dancing steel trembling with life’, and he has also noted the sense of ‘an instant fellowship, a spontaneous celebration’ which is re-created in their presence. As he concludes: ‘Rhythm is friendship and in Tsai’s work there is friendship of light, sound and our own heart-beats.’
If this appraisal testifies to the success with which Tsai affects the sensory and emotional responses of the spectator, we must not neglect the fact that he is also addressing himself to reason and the scientific element in his audience. In effect, the observer can enter an almost mathematical relationship with these works, and sharpen his perceptual powers through the exact assessment of the various aesthetic parameters of vibration, sound, colour, wave movement, etc.
  • Frank Popper, Art--Action and Participation, New York University Press, 1975, p. 214
  • One of the main reasons for my interest early on in the art and technology relationship was that during my studies of movement and light in art I was struck by the technical components in this art. Contrary to most, if not all, specialists in the field who put the stress on purely plastic issues and in the first place on the constructivist tradition, I was convinced that the technical and technological elements played a decisive part in this art. One almost paradoxical experience was my encounter with the kinetic artist and author of the book Constructivism, George Rickey, and my discovery of the most subtle technical movements in his mobile sculptures. But what seemed to me still more decisive for my option towards the art and technology problematic was the encounter in the early 1950s with artists like Nicholas Schöffer and Frank Malina whose works were based on some first hand or second hand scientific knowledge and who effectively or symbolically employed contemporary technological elements that gave their works a prospective cultural meaning. The same sentiment prevailed in me when I encountered similar artistic endeavors from the 1950s onwards in the works of Piotr Kowalski, Roy Ascott and many others which confirmed me in the aesthetic option I had taken, particularly when I discovered that this option was not antinomic (contradictory) to another aspect of the creative works of the time, i.e. spectator participation.
  • Roy Ascott was among the first artists to launch an appeal for total spectator participation: for him, the strict antinomy between action and contemplation needed to be abolished.
    • Frank Popper (2007). From Technological to Virtual Art.

Quotes about Frank Popper

  • Frank, you are, without doubt, a scarcity. Anyone who looks at the historical record of the juncture of art and technology finds you nearly unaccompanied when it comes to documenting this historical record between the years of the late-1960's up to the early 1990s. Basically there is you, Jack Burnham's book Beyond Modern Sculpture (1968), and Gene Youngblood's reference work Expanded Cinema (1970). Specifically, your books Origins and Development of Kinetic Art (1968), Art, Action and Participation (1975) and Art of the Electronic Age (1993) are indispensable research tools in helping us figure out how art got to where it is today - in your terms virtualized.
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