Kinetic Art


Kinetic Art is a form of art, usually sculpture, in which movement plays a primary role. The source of this movement can be mechanical, the natural motion of surrounding air currents, or an interaction with the viewer.

Some of the earliest kinetic art came from constructivism, a movement in the early 20th century started by Russian artists who constructed sculptures out of industrial materials. Monument to the Third International (1920), by Russian artist Vladimir Tatlin, is a landmark of kinetic art. Although it was never built to full scale, Tatlin intended this architectural structure to be about 400 m (about 1300 ft) high, featuring three cylindrical glass chambers, rotating at different speeds around a tilting axis and surrounded by spiral scaffolding. Also in 1920, fellow Russian constructivist Naum Gabo assembled a motorized sculpture from a metal rod and a doorbell vibrator, called Kinetic Sculpture: Standing Wave (Tate Gallery, London). Hungarian-born artist László Moholy-Nagy, who was affiliated with the Bauhaus, a progressive school of art and design in Germany, made Light-Space Modulator with moving components of steel, plastic, and wood (1921-1930, Busch-Reisinger Museum of Germanic Culture, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts).

At the same time in a more playful spirit, French artist Marcel Duchamp painted segmented circles on glass plates and set them spinning to create the illusion of uninterrupted rotating rings. This work, Rotary Glass Plate (1920, Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, Connecticut), was the first of his Precision Optics series. It was followed by Rotary Demisphere (1925, Collection of Mrs. William Sisler, New York City), which simulated three-dimensional spirals, and ten years later by a series of Rotoreliefs, patterned cardboard discs turned by record players. Duchamp meant these to be viewed (and marketed) as perceptual novelties, somewhere between toys and household gadgets.

American sculptor Alexander Calder created equally whimsical sculptures, which were named mobiles by Duchamp. These first appeared in the early 1930s and were simple forms, sometimes abstract, sometimes figurative, made of metal or wood and balanced or suspended from metal rods of various lengths. Although a few early mobiles had motors, most of them were set in motion by moving air acting upon the delicately balanced parts.

Kinetic art blossomed again in the late 1950s. With the advent of pop art and its embrace of commercial products and images, machines became frequent subjects of art, often with a note of irony or nostalgia. American sculptors Richard Stankiewicz and Edward Kienholz both experimented with motorized components - Stankiewicz in his assemblages of industrial junk and Kienholz in his melancholy scenes of contemporary life. American artist Robert Rauschenberg, who played a crucial role in the development of pop art, included motors and moving parts in his collagelike combines of the 1950s, and in 1967 helped organize a groundbreaking series of collaborations between scientists and artists called Experiments in Art and Technology (E.A.T).

Perhaps no one did more to draw public attention to kinetic art than Swiss sculptor Jean Tinguely, whose noisy, motorized sculptures entitled Meta-matics first appeared in the mid-1950s. Tinguely's massive, spectacular Homage to New York (1960), which included everything from baby-carriage wheels to old office equipment, was the first of a series of machines designed to destroy themselves. At the opening exhibit in the sculpture garden of New York City's Museum of Modern Art, Homage did not operate as planned, although it did destroy itself, causing a fire. Kinetic sculptors Len Lye, and George Rickey set sleek abstract forms in motion. Other kinetic artists in the early 1960s, including Venezuelan artist Jesus Rafael Soto and Israeli artist Yaacov Agam, used lines and form to create the illusion of movement as the viewer walks past their works, in what is sometimes referred to as op art.

Kinetic art today encompasses a wide variety of work, ranging from wind-powered musical sculpture by American artist Doug Hollis to extravagant motorized assemblages by American artist Rebecca Horn, video art by Korean American artist Nam June Paik, and even artistic experiments in computer-generated virtual reality.

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