Sonya Rapoport (b. 1923, Brookline, MA; d. 2015, Berkeley, CA) was a conceptual artist best known for a visual language that appropriated the aesthetics of science and digital media. Her work is characterized by groundbreaking experimentation with computers and data collection, collaboration with eminent scientists and experts in the humanities, a fascination with categorization and systems of knowledge, a consistent reinvestigation of her own earlier work, and a profound feminist mission marked by strategic forays into male dominated fields. Her career represents a unique path from high modernist painting to contemporary conceptual and new media work.
Among the first women to receive an M.A. in Painting (UC Berkeley, 1949), Rapoport’s Abstract Expressionist work was given a solo exhibition at the California Palace of the Legion of Honor in 1963. She went on to explore pattern, painting on printed fabrics and developing a personal pictographic vocabulary using recontextualized stencils. In 1976 Rapoport began drawing on found computer printout paper, eventually leading to her reinvention as a digital artist. Her interactive installations used computer programs to gather, process, and represent data. An integral part of a community of artists experimenting with emerging computer technologies in the early 1980’s, Rapoport had an active role in MIT Press’ art, science, and technology journal Leonardo. Critical recognition of Rapoport’s contributions gained momentum in the last decade of her life.
Rapoport leaves a 66-year artistic legacy that includes works in a variety of media, including paintings, works on paper, performance artifacts, books, videos, and web art. Her name is recognized nationally and internationally through her participation in over fifty major exhibitions, including the Whitney Biennial (2006), Bienal de Arte, Buenos Aires (2002), Zero1 Biennial, Silicon Valley (2012), Violence Without Bodies, Museo Reina Sofia, Madrid (2005), and Documenta 8, Kassel, Germany (1987). She was the subject of late-career retrospective exhibitions at KALA Art Institute, Berkeley (2011), Mills College Art Museum, Oakland (2012), The Fresno Art Museum (2013) and the book Pairing of Polarities: The Life and Art of Sonya Rapoport, edited by Terri Cohn (Heyday, 2012). Her archives are preserved in the Bancroft Library at the University of California, Berkeley.