Sonya Rapoport Archives Acquired by Bancroft Library

(Addendum, 01.23.2015: The Rapoport (Sonya) Papers have been made available. Read more and access the papers here.)

The Bancroft Library is pleased to announce the acquisition of the archive of Sonya Rapoport, a new media artist who is known for her computer assisted, cross-cultural and interdisciplinary artworks and interactive installations.  These works have been presented internationally at venues such as Ars Electronica, Austria; DOCUMENTA, Kassel, Germany; Bienal Internacional de Arte de Buenos Aires; and the Whitney Biennial, New York. She has had one-person exhibitions at The Palace of the Legion of Honor, the Peabody Museum at Harvard, Mills College Art Museum, Kala Art Institute, San Jose Museum of Art, The New School, Artists Space, Franklin Furnace, 80 Langton Street, and Kuopio Art Museum, Finland. Her published writings include art and book reviews, including critiques which have appeared in the MIT publication Leonardo/ISAST , a scholarly journal dedicated to exploring art, science and technology.

Sonya Rapoport received a Master of Arts in Painting at UC Berkeley in 1949 and is widely recognized for incorporating digital information into her art. Over the course of her career her work has bridged traditional painting and interactive conceptual art. During Rapoport’s art studies at UC Berkeley in the late 1940’s she worked with Art Professor Erle Loran, and was influenced by the aesthetic philosophy of Hans Hoffman and The Berkeley School. In the 1950s and 1960s, she produced abstract work marked by a diverse palette and heavily textured surfaces. 

Through her late husband Dr. Henry Rapoport, Professor of Chemistry, she met a number of UC Berkeley faculty and researchers, creating works which explored the relationship of scientific and artistic practices. These encounters inspired a radical shift in her work. Richard Candida Smith, who conducted an oral history with Rapoport, shares his insight into these relationships: “Nuclear physicists at the Lawrence Laboratory gave her computer print-outs from their experiments in constructing artificial gold molecules. Anthropologist Dorothy Washburn shared her computer print-outs produced for the analysis of Anasazi and other ancient Southwest Native American ceramic pottery.  As Rapoport became comfortable with computers, she shifted from painting to develop a new body of work based in digital programming.” During the 1970s, Sonya Rapoport reinvented herself as one of the first digital artists in the country.

Rapoport created drawings on computer printouts found in the basement bins of the UC Berkeley Mathematics Department. Extensive projects such as Shoe Field and Objects on my Dresser are fusions of Rapoport’s highly personal domestic subject matter with her research into science and technology. These and other works were exhibited as interactive installations, often involving the gathering, processing, and representing of data by computer output, yet maintaining a humanistic spirit through the inclusion of drawing, and audio/video components.

The Sonya Rapoport archive is approximately 16 linear feet, consisting primarily of materials used in the research and creation of Sonya Rapoport’s digital, interdisciplinary, conceptual artwork and installations. These include primary source materials (many annotated), handwritten notes, transcribed conversations, letters, drafts of published materials, image libraries, drawings, data tables, computer programs, audio and video media, etc. It also contains about 100 original drawings on archival computer forms and original artists’ books. Also included is correspondence, business and exhibition records, reviews, announcements, publications, and other ephemera. The archive does not contain the paintings and installations included in Sonya Rapoport’s art estate.

Sonya Rapoport remains an active artist, with several shows scheduled to open in the near future.