Otto Beckmann | i |
last name: Beckmann
first name: Otto
birthday: May 5, 1908
birth-place: Vladivostok (Russia)
death date: February 13, 1997
died in: Vienna (Austria)

“Otto Beckmann’s interaction with his computer was highly personal. He used it in isolation in his studio; the computer was a special tool—an extension of him. He called it an “intelligible tool with dialog properties,” which artificially mirrors part of the artist and shows aspects of a partnership." [Oberquelle and Beckmann, 2008, p. 29]

Otto Beckmann, who was a sculptor by education, is counted to the pioneers of computer art. Even before using computers, he used algorithms in his work, developing “a theory of a complete family of forms” [Oberquelle and Beckmann, 2008, p. 22], which he called Denkmaschine [thinking machine]. This approach was reconstructed by his son Oskar, who defined the following three layers:

  • Processing layer: computing the basic elements by means of geometric construction
  • Mapping layer: assigning characteristic proportions to the basic elements
  • Composition layer: curve fitting in between

This structure was also used in Beckmann’s famous studio computers, a series of computers Oskar Beckmann build for him starting in 1969, in order to create his artworks. Its development was honored with the “Adolf-Schärf Award for the Advancement of Science” in 1972. Otto Beckmann stated that “The efforts to obtain a different type of computer were motivated on the one hand by his insight that existing computers were not optimal for artistic work and on the other hand by his wish to be independent.” [Ars Intermedia, 1971, p.6 translation quoted from Oberquelle and Beckmann, 2008, p. 23]

“Otto Beckman saw undreamt-of possibilities for art in computer technology, in which he recognised a baroque power to reunite the genres. Since Beckmann had no computer knowledge of his own, he sought exchange with experts. In this context the Experimental Working Group” ars intermedia “as well as the construction of a hybrid computer by his son” Oskar “gain a high interest.” [Herzogenrath et. al, 2007, p. 310].

In the 1960s, he started to experiment with (ultraviolet and polarized) light. Together with Alfred Graßl he developed pictures on an oscilloscope at the Technical University of Vienna, which they called “electronic computer graphics” [cf. Oberquelle and Beckmann, 2008]. In collaboration with Gerd Koepf Beckmann began experimenting with laser light in the 1970s. At the same time he created “imaginary architecture”, which Oberquelle called “zenith of his [Beckmann’s, author’s note] computer art experiments” [Oberquelle and Beckmann, 2008, p. 29]. In 1979 he decided to quit using computers and concentrated on “working with the randomness of objects found in nature and among real artifacts.” [Oberquelle and Beckmann, 2008, p. 29]


1908 Otto Beckmann was born in Vladivostok (Russia).
1922 Otto Beckmann moved to Austria.
1923-27 He trained as an electromechanic in Vienna.
1927-31 Beckmann attended the Higher School of Technology and Commerce in Mödling.
1931 Received his general qualification for university entrance.
1934-35 He visited the School of Art and Crafts in Vienna.
1936-41 He studied sculpture at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna.
1940 Birth of his first son Otto.
1941-44 He tought at the German College of Arts and Crafts in Krakow.
1942 Birth of his second son Oskar W..
1944 Birth of his third son Georg.
1946 Birth of his fourth son Richard.
1948 Beckmann participated at the summer academy Salzburg in Leopoldskron.
1950-61 Employee at the Academy of Music and performing Arts in Vienna.
1951 From this time on he was a member of the Vienna Secession.
1953 1st Austrian Graphical Competition – 1st Prize of the Capital City Innsbruck.
1958 Was granted the title “professor” by the Austrian Federal President.
1966 Since Beckmann had no computer knowledge of his own, he sought exchange with experts. For this reason he founded the Experimental Working Group ars intermedia, which was to fathom current computer technology for artistic dimensions.
Alongside Beckmann, the founding members were qualified engineers Alfred Graßl, Gerd Koepf, his son Oskar Beckmann, and the cameraman Gerhard Schedl. Every member worked on a project, but all the results culminated in Otto Beckmann’s creative work.
1968 He produced his first computer graphics together with Alfred Graßl (born 9th July 1941).
They produced a kind of oscillographic images which resulted in painterly, almost Art Informel aetsthetics.
1969 He participated at the Tendencies 4.
1970 Beckmann started producing works, wich he conceived together with his son Oskar Beckmann (born 2nd August 1942). Oskar had constructed a hybrid computer – the so-called a.i.70 (followed by improved versions) – specifically tuned to his father’s interests.
From 1970, Otto Beckmann developed also an additional method of image generation in close cooperation with Gerd Koepf (born 20th July 1942). The results were so called diffraction images, which Beckman recorded as Photographs. Beckmann’s interest in the computer gradually receded towards the end of the 1970s.
1982 His first wife Johanna died.
1983 Beckmann marries Monika Tanzberger.
1997 Otto Beckmann died in Vienna (Austria).
1953 Otto won the first austrian graphikcompetition, 1. prize of the Landeshauptstadt Innsbruck.
1958 Awarding of the title “Professor” through the austrian federal president.
1970 Ars intermedia received an award from the Vienna Cultural Fund for Art in Technical Media for its achievements in the field of computer-generated art.
1973 Ars intermedia received the Dr. Adolf Schärf Prize for the promotion of the science.
Artist Groups
Exhibitions organized
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