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Kinetic Art Collage

Kinetic Art

Started: 1954

Kinetic Art Timeline


"The investigation of material, volume, and construction made it possible for us in 1918, in an artistic form, to begin to combine materials like iron and glass, the materials of modern Classicism, comparable in their severity with the marble of antiquity. In this way an opportunity emerges of uniting purely artistic forms with utilitarian intentions..."
Vladimir Tatlin
"The reality of our century is technology: the invention, construction and maintenance of machines. To be a user of machines is to be the spirit of this country. Machines have replaced the transcendental spiritualism of past eras."
László Moholy-Nagy
"To me art is a form of manifest revolt, total and complete."
Jean Tinguely


Vladimir TatlinVladimir Tatlin
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Marcel DuchampMarcel Duchamp
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Alexander CalderAlexander Calder
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László Moholy-NagyLászló Moholy-Nagy
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Alexander RodchenkoAlexander Rodchenko
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Naum GaboNaum Gabo
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"Just as one can compose colors, or forms, so one can compose motions."

Alexander Calder Signature


Kinetic art - art that depends on movement for its effects - has its origins in the Dadaist and Constructivist movements that emerged in the 1910s. It flourished into a lively avant-garde trend following the landmark exhibition Le Mouvement at Galerie Denise Rene in Paris in 1955, after which it attracted a wide international following. At its heart were artists who were fascinated by the possibilities of movement in art - its potential to create new and more interactive relationships with the viewer and new visual experiences. It inspired new kinds of art that went beyond the boundaries of the traditional, handcrafted, static object, encouraging the idea that the beauty of an object could be the product of optical illusions or mechanical movement. But the group was split between those such as Jean Tinguely, who were interested in employing actual movement, and those such as Victor Vasarely, who were interested in optical effects and the illusion of movement and went on to be more closely associated with the Op art movement. Kinetic art thrived for a decade and achieved considerable prominence. But Op art proved almost too successful in capturing the public's imagination, while Kinetic art eventually began to be seen as a stale and accepted genre. By the mid-1960s, these developments led to a decline in artists' interest in movement.

Key Ideas

Kinetic art marked an important revival of the tradition of Constructivism, or Constructive art, that had been a presence in modern art since the 1910s. Parts of the movement also revived its utopian optimism, talking once again of the potential for art to spread into new areas of everyday life and to embrace technology in ways appropriate to the modern world.
But the movement also borrowed much from Dada, and in this respect parts of it were highly skeptical about the potential of technology to improve human life. Artists who were inspired by Dada, such as Jean Tinguely, used their work to express a more anarchic, satirical attitude to machines and movement. They suggested that rather than being humanity's helpmate, the machine might become her master.
Although ostensibly fascinated by machines, some Kinetic artists developed a profound interest in analogies between machines and human bodies. Rather than regarding machines and human bodies as radically different - one being soulless and functional, the other being governed by the sensitive, rational mind - they used their art to suggest that humans might be little more than irrational engines of conflicting lusts and urges, like a dysfunctional machine. This idea has deep roots in Dada, and betrays Kinetic art's debt to that earlier movement.

Most Important Art

Kinetic Art Famous Art

Arc of Petals (1941)

Artist: Alexander Calder
Before Alexander Calder trained as an artist, he took a degree in mechanical engineering, and this laid the foundations for what would later be an important and early contribution to Kinetic art. He is most associated with mobiles, which he began to make in the early 1930s, which employ motorized or hand-cranked mechanisms to move an array of different forms in a predetermined way. These later gave way to the works for which he is most famous: non-mechanized mobiles driven by air currents. Early versions of these often used materials such as glass or pottery, while later mobiles were generally comprised of flat metal pieces painted in solid red, yellow, blue, black, or white. In these works, movement is produced naturally and accidentally by virtue of passing breezes. Taking the theme of movement that was central to Kinetic art, Calder's later wind-blown mobiles reflected its harmonious and entirely natural aspects, suggesting that these forces can provide some of the subtle pleasures of human life.
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Kinetic Art Artworks in Focus:


Kinetic art

Early experiments with movement in art began between 1913 and 1920, led by artists of the Dadaist and Constructivist traditions. Perhaps the earliest instance of kinetic art was Marcel Duchamp's Bicycle Wheel (1913), which consisted of a wheel inverted on a stool (the piece is also recognized as the first "readymade" sculpture). In 1920, Constructivist artists Naum Gabo and Antoine Pevsner used the term "kinetic art" in their Realistic Manifesto. And, later, Bauhaus artist László Moholy-Nagy used the term "kinetic" to describe the mechanized movement of his piece Light Space Modulator (1930).

Although artists used the concept of kinetics intermittently for several years, it was not until 1955 that it was established as a major artistic movement, when the group exhibition Le Mouvement was held at Galerie Denise Rene in Paris. Central to this exhibition was Victor Vasarely; his so-called 'Yellow Manifesto' was published at the time of the show and came to serve as one of the movement's founding documents. Vasarely had been trained in Bauhaus ideas and had spent many years working in advertising. The graphic designs that he had initially used in advertising formed the substance of his new style. These took the form of a grid-like arrangement of black and white that produced a flickering effect. His style quickly attracted followers such as Bridget Riley.

But other aspects of Le Mouvement, those involving real movement as opposed to optical illusions, began to attract the interest of artists across the world. This movement could be effected by air or touch, as in the case of Alexander Calder's mobiles: his Arc of Petals (1941) combines subtle lines and biomorphic forms with natural movement to examine the behavior of an object in space. Or, as was more often the case, the movement was mechanized. Nicolas Schoffer's desire to introduce a sense of dynamism to his geometric Constructivist sculptures initially involved merely lending them a complex sense of space. But he eventually introduced mechanized movement to these works, which he called Spatiodynamic sculptures, and this led to his interest in fusing electronics and art.

Concepts and Styles

The Legacy of Constructivism

The Kinetic art movement emerged out of what was widely perceived as the decline of the tradition of geometric abstraction in the post-war period. Due to the legacy of Constructivism, De Stijl, and the Bauhaus, geometric abstraction had initially been associated with revolutionary attitudes to art and society. Its austere and conceptual language of lines and flat planes, and simplified color palette, made it seem appropriate to the modern world. The philosophy that grew around it also encouraged the belief that it might provide a language in which art might filter into everyday life, decorating everything from architecture to ceramics. But as these hopes receded, geometric abstraction came to be seen as a somewhat academic art form concerned with little more than old-fashioned notions of composition.

The Kinetic art movement represented a revitalization of that tradition, by utilizing mechanical or natural motion to bring about a new relationship between art and technology. The movement introduced Kineticism across several forms of art, including painting, drawing, and sculpture, and many of its artists aspired to work with ever newer and more public media in order to bring Kinetic art to a wide audience.

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Kinetic Art Overview Continues

The Legacy of Dada

Kinetic art also drew heavily on the Dada movement, which had inspired some of the earliest instances of movement in art, such as Marcel Duchamp's Bicycle Wheel (1913) and Roto-Reliefs (1935-65). The motivation for these was less an interest in uniting art and technology than in breaking with the conventions of the traditional static artwork. Instead of the experience of the artwork being entirely determined by the artist in advance of exhibition, Kinetic art objects suggested that movement and the viewer's own impression of that movement - something out of the artist's control - was more important. Indeed the Dada tradition brought to Kinetic art a skepticism about the value of technology in modern life. Jean Tinguely's amusing self-detonating construction, Homage to New York (1960), was typical of this skepticism, since the mechanical contraption ultimately destroyed itself in a violent performance of sound and light. Dada and Surrealism also informed the work of another prominent kinetic artist, Alexander Calder. His mobiles, such as Arc of Petals (1941), used the natural movement of the air to animate an assortment of biomorphic forms. Rather than use movement to suggest modern technology, he used it to conjure a wistful, calming mood, one that suggested a happy union of nature and humanity.

Later Developments

The mid-1960s brought considerable acclaim to the movement and its artists. Julio Le Parc was awarded the Grand Prize for Painting at the Venice Biennale in 1966, and Nicolas Schoffer won the prize for sculpture in 1968. Galerie Denise Rene celebrated ten years of the movement in 1965 with another group show entitled Le Mouvement 2. But the perception that the movement had ceased to be radical and was beginning to be accepted by the art world establishment discouraged a new generation from pursuing it. Much of the impetus behind the movement had derived from an avant-garde spirit - on the one hand a utopian optimism that modern art might find a wider public, on the other a critical, anti-establishment ethos - and the realization that the movement was settling down to become just another successful style of art contributed to its decline. The deathblow was delivered by the huge popularity of The Responsive Eye, an exhibition concentrating on the Op wing of the movement, which was held at the The Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1965. Some critics attacked this Op work as "gadgetry" and as a collection of kitschy optical tricks whose only effect was to titillate the eye.

Since that period, artists have continued to use movement in their work, sometimes in ways that betray the influence of kinetic art, sometimes not. Rebecca Horn's sculpture sometimes fuses aspects of Dada, Fluxus, and Kinetic art; her Concert for Anarchy (1990) features a grand piano suspended upside down from the ceiling, from which, every few minutes, the keys are thrust out. Yet the playground slides, carousels, and interactive sculptures created since the 1990s by Carsten Höller owe little to Kineticism, despite the importance of movement to them. Today, the Kinetic art movement seems less a pressing influence for artists than a resource for ideas.

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Useful Resources on Kinetic Art






The books and articles below constitute a bibliography of the sources used in the writing of this page. These also suggest some accessible resources for further research, especially ones that can be found and purchased via the internet.
Force Fields: An Essay on the Kinetic Recomended resource

By Guy Brett, Marc Nash

Kinetic Art: Theory and Practice

By Frank J. Malina

Origins and Development of Kinetic Art

By Frank Popper, S. Bann

Robert Rauschenberg & Jean Tinguely: Collaborations

By Roland Wetzel, Mari Dumett, Robert Rauschenberg, Jean Tinguely

More Interesting Books about Kinetic Art
Kinetica Museum Recomended resource

Features Kinetic Works by Contemporary Artists

Guggenheim: Kinetic Art

Provides a Brief Overview of the Movement and Examples of Kinetic Works from the Collection

Kinetic Art Organization

Victor Vasarely

Official Website of the Kinetic Artist Victor Vasarely

Kinetic Abstraction

By Morgan Falconer
Frieze Magazine
November-December 2007

Force Fields: Phases Of The Kinetic Recomended resource

By Yve-Alain Bois
November 2000

Retro or Nostalgic, the Work Never Stops Moving

By Alan Riding
The New York Times
August 16, 2000

Sculpture That Moves By Air, By Touch

By William Zimmer
The New York Times
February 21, 1999

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