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Kinetic Art

Updated on January 15, 2012

Three dimensional art works whose parts are capable of motion either by naturally occurring air currents or by some mechanical means are known as kinetic art. Their mobility presents the observer with constantly changing visual experiences.

The realization that sculpture could involve the manipulation of space as well as mass gave birth to the earliest forms of kinetic art through such artists as Naum Gabo. Before World War II Alexander Calder was already working on his 'mobiles' which consisted of colored metal shapes suspended on wires so they could be caught by breezes. Similar works were created by Sebastian Matta and Jean Arp. The history of kinetic art is intimately linked with technological progress.

Kinetic art can glorify the machine as in Nicholas Schaffer's computerized constructions in Cybernetic Tower (1961). It can seek to relate art to science or it can parody it as in Jean Tinguely's 'suicide machine' Homage to New York (1960), which after 28minutes of frenetic activity was programmed to destroy itself.

Since the early 1960s kinetic art works have become more refined and subtle in their effects. In the tradition of Calder, George Rickey creates mobiles of delicate stainless steel and aluminum shapes which form myriad patterns as they are buffeted by the breeze. Castro Cid's menacing robots and Robert Breer's writing and crawling objects are machines created to engender a sinister effect. Deliberately disturbing are artist Pol Bury's 'motorised constructions,' which proceed at a barely perceptible pace. At the other extreme, Len Lye's kinetic sculptures move at a frenzied speed. The experimental works of Takis and Davide Boriami rely on electromagnets for movement.

Exhibitions of kinetic art have been held regularly since the 1960s and several groups of kinetic artists have emerged.

These have included Groupe de Recherche d'Art Visuel, formed in Paris in 1960, Equipo '57 (Spain 1957) and Groupe Zero (Germany 1957). The artists Victor Vasarely and Bruno Munemi are among the most notable theorists of kinetic art.


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