Sonya Rapoport

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Sonya Rapoport
Sonya Rapoport.jpg
Sonya Rapoport 2005
Born Sonya Goldfarb
(1923-10-06)October 6, 1923
Boston, Massachusetts
Died June 1, 2015(2015-06-01) (aged 91)
Berkeley, California
Nationality American
Education Massachusetts College of Art, Columbia University, Boston University, University of California, Berkeley
Known for Conceptual Art,, Feminism

Sonya Rapoport (1923 – 2015) was an American Conceptual and New Media artist. Originally trained as an Abstract Expressionist painter, in the 1960s Rapoport turned to challenging the domain of science by questioning its rigid conventions in performances and installations from a feminist perspective. She was a pioneer among artists using emerging computer technologies since the 1980s. 

Early life[edit]

Rapoport (née Goldberg) grew up in Brookline, Massachusetts. She regularly attended Saturday classes at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts and spent summers at the art colony in Ogunquit, Maine.[1]

In 1941 Rapoport entered Massachusetts College of Art.  She met her future husband Henry Rapoport while he was a Ph.D. Candidate at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.  A year later, she transferred to Boston University to study Biology. In 1944 she married Henry Rapoport and the couple moved to New York, where Sonya Rapoport enrolled in New York University and, in 1946, received her B.A. in Labor Economics. She then attended the Art Students League of New York where she studied with Reginald Marsh. In September 1946 the couple moved to Washington, D.C., where Rapoport entered the Corcoran School of Art to study figurative art and oil painting.

In late September 1947, Henry Rapoport accepted a position as professor of organic chemistry at the University of California, Berkeley. Sonya Rapoport studied at the UC Berkeley’s Art Department with Erle Loran and received an MA in Painting in 1949.

Artistic Career[edit]

Early Work

Rapoport’s early Abstract Expressionist paintings were the subject of a solo exhibition at the California Palace of the Legion of Honor in 1963.[2] Following the show, Rapoport surprised her critics and mentors by abandoning the dominant Abstract Expressionist style of painting. In the new Fabric Paintings (1966-69) she challenged herself by purchasing pre-printed commercial fabrics and using them as her canvas. She experimented with appropriated materials, silkscreen and acrylic paint on inexpensive textiles. In a conversation with Peter Selz, as reported in his biography Sketches of a Life in Art,[3] Rapoport described this fabric as “funky”, a term that she and Selz then applied to a group of artists with similar interests, coining the term “funk art.

Paintings and Works on Paper

In 1971 Rapoport discovered a series of antique geological survey charts in a desk she had purchased. Drawing and painting directly on these, she further developed her pictorial language of shapes to represent gendered symbols – a plastic housing was a uterus, a mandarin orange was a fetus, a cue holder was an udder, a fleur-de-lis was an infant, etc. As her interest in exploring the meaning of these symbols grew, she began copying elements from the survey charts, including the grid, numerical data, and written notation, into large scale, acrylic, airbrushed paintings. These works represent a critical transition to her interest in information, symbolic communication, and visual analysis.

Computer Printout Drawings

In early 1976 Rapoport chanced on a box of discarded computer printouts in the basement of the UC Berkeley Mathematics Department, a find which eventually lead to her reinvention as a digital artist. Printed in standard carbon-black dot matrix font on ruled, perforated, wide-format paper, these data sheets represent complex coded analyses of information. At this early stage, Rapoport did not have access to the meaning of the printouts. She used a limited palette of colored pencil and letter stencils to respond aesthetically to the printed data-sets and charts, resulting in dense, intricate abstract drawings. She soon began her collaboration with Professor of Anthropology Dorothy Washburn, creating drawings on printouts representing analysis of symmetry in Anasazi pottery design.

People Shapers (1978 - 2008)

Rapoport’s later computer drawings are the embodiment of a research-based practice in which she collaborated with many leading experts in the sciences and humanities. The long, linear nature of the computer printout paper facilitated her move towards an artmaking process involving the collection, synthesis, and presentation of information. These drawings include images, texts, and representations of data appropriated from primary sources, and explore current events, chemistry, art history, psychology, the history of science, and the role of women in society. Rapoport made use of reproduction technologies including stencils, solvent image transfers, and photocopies, and she used colored pencil to draw into the resulting densely layered imagery. Developed alongside her groundbreaking computer mediated interactive installations, many works turned her analytical eye on herself and her psychological constitution, exploring her personal history, her family, and domestic objects in her possession.

Chinese Connections (1982), artist book

Installations and Performances

Digital Mudra (1988 – 1989), detail of interactive installation.

Rapoport’s computer-assisted interactive installations of the early 1980’s are among the earliest artworks to use computers in gallery contexts. She collaborated with coders to create programs that gathered data about participants’ choices and used algorithms to analyze their personality. These works are startlingly prescient of our 21st century computer-mediated social life.

In projects such as Objects On My Dresser; Biorhtythm: The Computer Says I Feel, Digital Mudra; and Shoe Field, Rapoport used idiosyncratic and playful rubrics to create data portraits of her subjects. With the computer acting as a dispassionate intermediary, these projects allowed Rapoport to broach intimate topics with her audience including sexuality, psychological well-being, and beliefs about one’s personal attributes.

Rapoport was an early adopter of internet technology and was affiliated with a community of like-minded creators such as Judy Malloy, and others associated with MIT’s Leonardo journal. Beginning in 1989 she moved from using computers in gallery contexts to creating works of art that existed primarily online. Motivated by an interest in the humanistic potential of computers, these works were informed by her knowledge of programming and experience in creating work that responded to and incorporated participants’ choices. Reflecting Rapoport’s interest in the social construction of gender, race, and religion, imagery was sourced from a variety of sources, including art history, the sciences, newspapers, and her earlier works. The digitally collaged imagery and innovative hypertext interfaces that comprise these works exemplify early aesthetics.


Brutal Myths (1996), detail of work

Rapoport participated in over fifty major exhibitions, including the 2006 Whitney Biennial, Violence without Bodies in 2005 at the Museo Reina Sofia, Madrid, the 2002 Bienal de Arte Art in Buenos Aires, and Documenta 8 in 1987 in Kassel, Germany. She was the subject of two late-career retrospective exhibitions (Kala Art Institute, 2011, and Mills College Art Museum, 2012) and the book Pairing of Polarities: The Life and Art of Sonya Rapoport, edited by Terri Cohn (Heyday, 2012).[4]

Sonya Rapoport Legacy Trust was established and endowed during Rapoport’s  lifetime to preserve her work and to broaden its critical and historical recognition. It supports the artist’s legacy through a variety of initiatives, including exhibitions, loans of artworks, research, publications, conservation, and educational programs for the public and the scholarly community. The trust maintains a collection of Rapoport’s artwork in a variety of media and encourages collaborative projects with artists, writers, and scientists in recognition of Rapoport’s unique methodology. It also encourages the study of the Sonya Rapoport Papers at the Bancroft Library, UC Berkeley.

Exhibition history[edit]

Solo Exhibitions
  • Yes or No?. Krowswork, Oakland, California, November, 2015.
  • ImPOSSIBLE CONVERSATIONS?. Fresno Art Museum, Fresno, California, 17 May - 5 January 2014.
  • Spaces of Life: The Art of Sonya Rapoport. Mills College Art Museum, Oakland, California, 18 January - 11 March 2012 (Future).
  • Sonya Rapoport: Pairings of Polarities. KALA Institute Art Gallery, Berkeley, California, 4 March—9 April 2011.
  • Vuorovaekutus (Interaction). Kuopio Art Museum, Kuopio, Finlande, 1992. The Animated Soul.
  • Exhibition at Takada Fine Art. San Francisco, California, 1992. The Animated Soul—Gateway to Your Ka (1992).
  • “The Animated Soul” Exhibition at the Ghia Gallery. San Francisco, California, 22 March—30 April 1991. The Animated Soul—Gateway to Your Ka (Computer: Kathryn Woods; Sound: Andrew Smolle).
  • Interactive Shoe-Field. Cadence Design Systems, San Jose, California, April 1990.
  • Exhibition at Hearst Art Gallery. Saint Mary’s College of California, Moraga, California, 8 January—21 February 1988. Digital Mudra.
  • Exhibition at MEDIA Gallery. San Francisco, California, 7 October—4 November 1986. Kiva-Studio, A Shoe-In Shoe-Field I, Shoe-Field II.
  • Shared Dynamics. Sarah Lawrence College, Bronxville, New York, 1984.
  • “Coping with Sexual Jealousy” with the Heller Gallery in the Pauley Ballroom. Berkeley, California, 30 October 1984. Performance of Coping with Sexual Jealousy.
  • Back to Nature/ Recycling the Objects: A Retrospective. Humboldt State University, Arcata, California, 1983.
  • Biorhythm: How Do You Feel? WORKS, San Jose, California, 1983.
  • Biorhythm. Graduate School of Business Administration, New York University, New York City, New York. 1982.
  • A Shoe-In / Objects On My Dresser. Installation at Berkeley Computer Systems. Berkeley, California, 31 March—7 April 1982. Objects On My Dresser and A Shoe-In.
  • Shared Dynamics. Artist Space, New School for Social Research, New York, 1981.
  • Psycho-Aesthetic Dynamics. 80 Langton Street, San Francisco, California, 3–14 June 1980. Objects on My Dresser—Psycho-Aesthetic Dynamics, Phase 2.
  • Bonito-Rapoport Shoes. Donnell Library Center: New York Public Library. New York, New York, 10 October 1979. Bonito-Rapoport Shoes.
  • Pictorial Linguistics. Franklin Furnace, New York City, New York, 9—27 October 1979.
  • Interaction: Art and Science: Jack Bergamini / Sonya Rapoport at Truman Gallery. New York, New York, 12 January—3 February 1979. Kiva-Studio.
  • Sonya Rapoport: An Overview (An Exhibition of Drawings). Union Gallery, San Jose State University, San Jose, California, 9 October—3 November 1978. Drawings. Hovenweep (1977), color pencil on computer print-out; Anasazi (1977) color pencil on computer print-out; Kiva-Studio Series (1978) color pencil on computer print-out; Upper Gila (1977) color pencil on computer print-out.
  • An Aesthetic Response. Tozzer Library of the Peabody Museum. Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1–31 May 1978. Works in collaboration with Dorothy Washburn.
  • Exhibition at E.B. Crocker Gallery in Sacramento. Sacramento, California, 19 November—15 December 1974. Sylvan, Basta, Budding, Untitled, all acrylic on canvas.
  • Exhibition at San Jose Museum of Art
  • Sonya Rapoport. Berkeley Art Center, Berkeley, California, 1973.
  • Sonya Rapoport at John Bolles Gallery. San Francisco, __—20 May 1972. Survey Charts, Medley, No. 15, acrylic and pencil on old geological survey sheet.
  • Sonya Rapoport at John Bolles Gallery. San Francisco, January—February 1970. Dusk, Blue Jay Wing, paintings.
  • Drawings and Paintings by Sonya Rapoport. Valley Art Gallery, Walnut Creek, California, 6—31 October 1969.
  • Sonya Rapoport: A Selection of Paintings and Drawings. Richmond Art Center, Richmond, California, 13 April—5 May 1968. Rapoport’s seventh one-man show. Reflections, commercial flower-printed linen.
  • Sonya Rapoport at John Bolles Gallery. San Francisco, California, 1–30 August 1967. Winged Double Image, acrylic on commercial flower-printed linen, Enlightenment, acrylic on fabric, and other “pattern paintings” with floral / genital themes.
  • Exhibition at the College of the Holy Names’ James D. Kennedy Memorial Art Center. Oakland, California, April 1965. Paincil Series (“contrast painting”).
  • Sonya Rapoport at John Bolles Gallery. San Francisco, California, 3 November—4 December 1964. Rf, Circle 2, Auror, I Love You (all “contrast paintings”); Plazmazoid, Spallation, Sonata in Orange, Auro, Psyche Trio (all “conglomerate canvases”); Red Graze, Flora Bat, Enlightenment (all fabric / pattern paintings).
  • Sonya Rapoport: Paintings and Drawings at the California Palace of the Legion of Honor. San Francisco, California, 23 March—21 April 1963.
  • Exhibition at East West Gallery. San Francisco, California, January 1958. Watercolors and oil paintings. [Rapoport’s first solo show. Abstract expressionist watercolors].
Selected Group Shows
Selected Lectures
Interactive Installations
  • ImPOSSIBLE CONVERSATIONS? Data Gathering Event. Martina }{ Johnston Gallery, Berkeley, California, 10 February 2013
  • Generations: Lineage of Influence-Bay Area Art, Richmond Art Center, California, 1996
  • Capp Street Project, 1996
  • Artist Resident Arts Wire, 1995
  • Vuorovaekutus, Kuopio Museum, Kuopio, Finland, 1992
  • The Animated Soul, Takada Arts 1992; Ghia Gallery 1991, San Francisco, California
  • Digital Mudra, KALA Institute, Berkeley, California, 1987
  • Shoe-Field, MEDIA, San Francisco, California, 1986
  • Coping with Sexual Jealousy, Pauley Ballroom University of Calif. Berkeley, 1984
  • Sarah Lawrence College, Bronxville, New York, 1984
  • Biorhythm: How do you feel? WORKS/San Jose, California, 1983
  • Back to Nature (Retrospective) Humboldt State University, Arcata, California, 1983
  • Shared Dynamics, Artists Space, New York, New York, 1981
  • Shared Dynamics, New School for Social Research, New York, New York, 1981
Selected Solo Installations / Exhibitions
  • Psycho-Aesthetic Dynamics, 80 Langton Street, San Francisco, California, 1980
  • Pictorial Linguistics, Franklin Furnace, New York City, New York, 1979
  • Bonito-Rapoport Shoes, Donnell Center, New York Public Library, 1979
  • Interaction Art and Science, Truman Gallery, New York City, New York, 1979
  • Peabody Museum, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1978
  • California (Crocker) Art Museum, Sacramento, California, 1974
  • San Jose Museum of Art, San Jose, California, 1974
  • John Bolles Gallery, San Francisco, California, 1964, 1967, 1970, 1972
  • California Palace of the Legion of Honor, San Francisco, California, 1963
Selected Book-Arts Exhibitions
  • Center for Book Arts, 30 Years of Innovation, New York City, New York 2005
  • Northern Calif. Book Artists, Ctr For Book Arts, New York City, 1998-99 (cat)
  • BOUNDLESS: Liberating the Book Form, San Francisco Center for the Book, CA, 1998
  • 1st Columbia Biennal Exhibition of the Book, Columbia College, Chicago, IL
  • WOMEN OF THE BOOK: Jewish Artists, Jewish Themes (traveling), 1997–2000
  • Photographic Book Art in the U. S.(traveling USA), 1992–95
  • Off the Shelf/On Line, Minn.Ctr (traveling NEA) (cat. pub.), 1992–1993
  • Book Arts, USA; U.S. Information Agency (traveling) (cat. pub.), 1992-90
  • Anchorage Museum of Art, Anchorage, Alaska (cat. pub.), 1991-1990
  • National Museum of Women, Washington DC, 1990
  • National Library, Madrid, Spain (cat. pub.), 1982
Painting and Drawing Exhibitions


  1. ^ "Digitizing the Golem: From Earth to Outer Space", Leonardo Journal, Vol. 39, No. 2, (MIT, 2006),17.
  2. ^ Dean Wallace, "Five One-Man Shows at Legion", San Francisco Chronicle, April 3, 1963
  3. ^ Ann., Karlstrom, (2011). Peter Selz : Sketches of a Life in Art. University of California Press. ISBN 9780520269354. OCLC 778339820. 
  4. ^ Sonya., Rapoport,; Terri., Cohn,; Richard., Cándida Smith,; Roger., Malina, (2012). Pairing of polarities : the life and art of Sonya Rapoport. Heyday. ISBN 1597141879. OCLC 758973670. 


  • Rachel Middleman and Alla Efimova, "Preserving Artists’ Estates: A Professional Perspective," Art Journal (Spring 2017).
  • Alla Efimova and Terri Cohn, "Sonya Rapoport: Ensemble Performance," Performa (March 22, 2017).
  • Alla Efimova and Terri Cohn. Yes or No? (Mills College Art Museum, 2016).
  • "Review of 'Make Me a Man'", artnetweb and Intelligent Agent, Vol. 2.07, (November 3, 1997).
  • Drawings: Barbara Foster, Brian Goble, Anne Hawkins, John Lanzone, Dan O'neill, Sonya Rapoport, (San Jose: California State University Press and Union Gallery, 1978).
  • Anonymous, "Sonya Rapoport: Works", Rhizome, (New York: New Museum Online Resource, January 1997).
  • Anonymous, "Sonya Rapoport: Works", Rhizome, (New York: New Museum Online Resource, July 1998).
  • Ernestine Daubner, "De l'alchimie au bioweb: Les métaphores de la transmutation et de la rédemption" (Interview with Sonya Rpoport), Art et Biotechnologies, Ed. Louise Poissant and Ernestine Daubner (Quebec: Presses de l’Universite du Quebec, 2005), 228-245
  • Ernestine Daubner, "Manipulating Genetic Identities: The Creation of Chimeras, Cyborgs and (Cyber Golems), Eduardo Kac and Sonya Rapoport", Parachute 105: Autofictions (National Museum of Canada, 2002), 84-91.
  • Anne de Haan, "Cyberfemale", Lover Magazine, (Netherlands, May 1997).
  • Dominic Gates, Microsoft Review of Art on the Web, (24 February 1997).
  • Judy Malloy, "Multi Media & Beyond: Interactive Installation Art: Blurring the Lines Between Artist and Audience", Microtimes, No. 101. (April 4, 1994), 308.
  • Frank Popper, From Technological to Virtual Art, (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT University Press, 2007), 69-75. ISBN 0-262-16230-X and ISBN 978-0-262-16230-2
  • Sonya Rapoport and Marie-José Sat, "Brutal Myths", Leonardo, (Fifth Annual New York Digital Salon), Vol. 30, No. 5 (1997), 455. (Image)
  • Sonya Rapoport, "Digging Into the Jewish Roots of Shoe-Field", Jews and Shoes, Ed.Edna Nahshon (Oxford, N.Y.: Berg Publishers: 2008). ISBN 1-84788-050-9 and ISBN 978-1-84788-050-5
  • Sonya Rapoport: An Aesthetic Response (San Jose: California State University Press and Union Gallery, 1978).
  • Sonya Rapoport, "(in)Authentic: Woman, War, Jew", In Transition Russia 2008, (Catalogue of NeMe / Independent Museum of Contemporary Art (IMCA) / National Centre for Contemporary Art (NCCA) Ekaterinburg and Moscow branches Russian Federation exhibition), Ed. Helene Black, (2008), 122-133, 196. ISBN 978-9963-8932-3-2 or Download
  • Sonya Rapoport, "Make Me a Man", Leonardo, (Sixth Annual New York Digital Salon), Vol. 31, No. 5 (1998), 467. (Image)
  • Sonya Rapoport, "Process(ing) Interactive Art: Using People as Paint, Computer as Brush, and Installation Site as Canvas",Women and Technology Art, Ed. Judy Malloy (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT University Press, 2003), 180-191. ISBN 0-262-13424-1 and ISBN 978-0-262-13424-8 JSTOR link
  • Sonya Rapoport, "Reencontrando, redimindo o gene, moldando o golem, dobrando a proteína", In Vitro, in vivo, in silicio: ensaios sobre a relação entre arte, ciência, tecnologia e o sagrado, Trans. Adauto Villela, (São Paulo: cnpq/pronex, 2007), 321-336.
  • Sonya Rapoport, "Smell Your Destiny", Leonardo, (Third Annual New York Digital Salon), Vol. 28, No. 5 (1995), 480. (Image)
  • Sonya Rapoport, "The Transgenic Bagel", Leonardo, (Fourth Annual New York Digital Salon), Vol. 29, No. 5 (1996), 410. (Image)
  • Therese Tierney, "Formulating Abstraction: Conceptual Art and the Architectural Object", Leonardo, Vol. 40, No. 1 (2007), 51-57 (cited on p. 56)
  • Stephen Wilson, Information Arts: Intersections of Art, Science, and Technology, (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT University Press, 2002), 105-107. ISBN 0-262-73158-4 and ISBN 978-0-262-73158-4
  • Debora Wood, Imagining by Numbers: A Historical View of the Computer Print, (Evanston: Northwestern University Press with Mary and Leigh Block Museum of Art, 2008). ISBN 0-8101-2505-6
  • Remedios Zafra, "Sinopsis de Violencia sin cuerpos", Cárcel de Amor: Relatos culturales sobre la violencia de género (Madrid: Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, 2006), 328-341.

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