"Just as one can compose colors, or forms, so one can compose motions."
Kinetic art - art that depends on movement for its effects - has its origins in theand 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 , who were interested in employing actual movement, and those such as , who were interested in optical effects and the illusion of movement and went on to be more closely associated with the 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.
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(1913), which consisted of a wheel inverted on a stool (the piece is also recognized as the first "readymade" sculpture). In 1920, Constructivist artists and used the term "kinetic art" in their Realistic Manifesto. And, later, artist 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.
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 ofmobiles: his (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. 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 ofin the post-war period. A legacy of , , and the , 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.
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(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. and also informed the work of another prominent kinetic artist, Alexander Calder. His mobiles, such as (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.
The mid-1960s brought considerable acclaim to the movement and its artists.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 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.sculpture sometimes fuses aspects of , , 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 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.
"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..."
"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.
- Laszlo Moholy-Nagy
"To me art is a form of manifest revolt, total and complete."
- Jean Tinguely