Kinetic art

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Kinetic art, also known as kinetic art, is an artistic trend that emerged in Paris in the mid-20th century, which integrates physical-spatial movement as a compositional element.

The concept of kinetic art extends to all works based on physical or virtual movement, which may include some expressions of optical art. However, not all optical art is kinetic. For an artistic object to be kinetic, movement must be the center of interest.

Jesus Soto: Sphere. Caracas Venezuela.

The types of kinetic art they are classified according to the type of movement, and therefore, they group three-dimensional and two-dimensional expressions equally. Namely:

Works of real movement, energized by various types of mechanisms. Virtual movement works, which generate the optical perception of movement.

the kinetic sculpture It is the most outstanding expression of this current. Unlike the traditional, solid and static sculptures, the kinetic ones are dynamic structures. Rather, they are conceived as three-dimensional works, whose main trends are:

Mobile structures that are activated by counterweight systems, environmental vibrations, inertia, etc. For example, Calder mobiles. Participatory sculptures, which require the intervention of the viewer. An example is the immersive pieces by Jesús Soto. Machines driven by electromagnetic systems. For example, Francisco Sobrino’s machines. Sculptures that integrate lighting as a resource for the perception of movement, be it natural or artificial light. For example, Julio Le Parc’s works based on reflections. Sculptures integrated into the environment or conceived as a show, such as the Tinguely fountains.

Next, let us understand what are the characteristics of kinetic art and what are the most important representatives and works.

Characteristics of kinetic art

Kinetic art inherited from Futurism the mechanistic will and, from Constructivism, the technological celebration. The fusion of these two aspects made it possible to make the movement more than just a beginning: a perceptible and/or real reality. From there the characteristics of this current emerge.

movement as principle

kinetismCarlos Cruz-Diez.

Unlike futurism and constructivism, in kinetism the movement is not imagined, but perceived sensorially and materially. It understands movement in three ways: the actual physical movement of the work, the optical movement, and the physical movement of the viewer.

Transformability of the work

If movement is the fundamental principle, the work is conceived as a transformable reality, whether induced by an internal mechanism, by the action of environmental phenomena (wind, light) or by the participation of the viewer.

Space and light as “material” of plastic creation

vasarelyVíctor Vasarely: Positive and negative, Ciudad Universitaria de Caracas, Venezuela.

Kineticism can conceive space and light as plastic “matter” within the composition. The apparent immateriality of empty space is essential to create movement effects. The same happens with light and reflections, which affect the work by causing it to constantly change.

Study of optical perceptions

kinetismCarlos Cruz-Diez: Couleur à l’Espace Olot, 2014, lithograph, 69.7 × 100 cm.

Following the Impressionists, the Kinetics also devoted themselves to the study of the mechanisms of optical perception, but took a step forward by studying retinal aggression and the perceptual ambiguity of abstract forms. Thus, they included the study of visual rhythms, the superposition of ambiguous geometric shapes and dynamic light perception.

Kineticism creates repeating sequences (of lines, simple shapes, or colors) that together create the perception of a visual rhythm. When these rhythms are altered by an object, or when they are subjected to movement (of the object or the viewer), a visual perception is created as a result of retinal aggression. For this reason, kineticism is considered a mathematical evolution of abstraction.

Playful and participatory component

kinetismJesús Soto: Houston Penetrable, lacquered aluminum structure, PVC tubes and water-based serigraphic ink, measurements: 848.4 × 1999 × 1211.6 cm. Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.

Participation and play are implicit in kinetism. The kinetic work is presented to the viewer as a visual game and, on many occasions, in fact, requires their active participation. Such is the case, for example, of immersive sculptures. In this way, kineticism proposes a change in the relationship between people and artistic objects. The work remains unfinished, awaiting the viewer.

Public art and integrated into the environment

kinetismJean Tinguely: Source, Basel.

Precisely because of its dynamic, playful and participatory nature, kinetic art was also committed to integration in public space. A good part of these proposals integrated the participation of the passer-by. Another part, no less important, was integrated with environmental elements, such as wind and water. Thus, art left the museums to meet citizen life and nature.

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Artists and works of kinetic art

Victor Vasarely

kinetism

Hungary, 1906-1997. He was one of the most outstanding artists of optical art and kinetic art. He implemented the contrast of two systems of perspective and color zones with the same tonal value. One of his most used resources was optical ambiguity. He had an outstanding public work since his first interventions in the University City of Caracas.

Jesus Raphael Soto

kinetism

Venezuela, 1923-2005. Inspired by the twelve-tone musical system and serial music, he used repetition and progressions to achieve an effect of continuity and evolution of serial repetition. He conceived space as part of the material of his work and understood that the human being was not facing space but was part of it. He stood out for the creation of penetrables.

Carlos Cruz-Diez

kinetism

Venezuela, 1923-2019. He made the colorful vibration the center of his proposal. Known for using narrow strips of color, arranged at right angles to the surface of the work. Thus, the color refracts on the surface and, as the viewer moves, the work changes, creating the sensation of movement.

You may also be interested in: 9 works by Carlos Cruz-Diez and his plastic principles.

Jean Tinguely

kinetismJean Tinguely: Heureka, 1964, Zurich.

Switzerland, 1925-1991. He was a painter and sculptor widely known for his so-called “machine sculptures”, which made him one of the most important exponents of kinetic art. His approach was closer to the anti-artistic postulates of Dadaism, which is why his work is a satire on industrial overproduction. His first properly kinetic work was Heureka, which is characterized by the production of “useless” movement, that is, devoid of meaning.

Eusebio Sempere

kinetismEusebio Sempere: Luminous Reliefs Series.

Spain, 1923-1985. He was a painter, sculptor and graphic artist inserted in the movement of kinetic art. He became known in 1955 thanks to the exhibition of the Luminous Reliefs series, in which he integrated electric light as a factor of movement within the work. Through changes in the lighting patterns of the piece, dynamic geometric shapes were built before the viewer’s eyes. Later he explored lines as a plastic resource in mobile structures and morotized sculpture.

Julius Le Park

kinetism

Argentina, 1928. Founding member of the GRAV group, he has stood out for his research on light as a dynamic element of the work, specular effects, the action of light reflections and movement.

Francisco Sobrino Ochoa

kinetismFrancisco Sobrino Ochoa: Permutational structure.

Spain, 1932-2014. Former member of GRAV. He stood out in kinetic art for the creation of so-called “permutational structures”, based on light transformation at different times of the day or under various sets of interior lighting. He also created mobile works through electromagnetic mechanisms and works based on retinal vibration.

Origin of Kineticism

kinetismLeft: Naum Gabo: Vibrating Rod, 1920, metal and wood with electric motor, 616 × 241 × 190 mm, Tate Gallery, London.
Right: Alexander Calder: Guava, 1955, mobile made of sheet metal, rods and wires (photo by Tom Powel Imaging). Calder Foundation.

As an art movement, kinetic art originated in Paris in the second half of the 20th century. The first milestone was the Le Mouvement exhibition, held in 1955 at the Denise René gallery. There, works by Victor Vasarely, Marcel Duchamp, Alexander Calder, Jesús Rafael Soto, Yaacov Agam, Jean Tinguely, Robert Jacobsen and Pol Bury were brought together. They all had movement in common.

This and other exhibitions were the starting point for individual and group initiatives that explored the aesthetic possibilities of real dynamism, a novelty in the fine arts. For example, the X Salon des Réalités Nouvelles (Paris, 1955), from which the kinetic Eusebio Sempere emerged.

Between 1960 and 1968, the Visual Art Research Group (GRAV for its French acronym) stood out in Paris, dedicated to the study of visual effects, including movement. Its members were Julio Le Parc, Francisco Sobrino Ochoa, François Morellet, Horacio García-Rossi, Hugo Demarco, Joel Stein, Yvaral and Denise René.

At the same time, the particular initiatives, anchored in the meticulous investigation, of artists such as Carlos Cruz-Diez, devoted to the study of the chromatic phenomenon beyond its supports, from whose interferences arise perceptions of movement, were transcendent.

Kinetic Art Background

Now, the antecedents of kinetic art go back, on the one hand, to some avant-gardes of the 20th century, such as futurism and geometric abstraction, particularly constructivism. On the other hand, to the experimental spirit of the Bauhaus school.

The work Vibrant rod by the constructivist Naum Gabo, exhibited in 1920, set a determining precedent. Later, around the 1950s, the invention of “mobile” sculptures would make Alexander Calder the forerunner of kinetic art as we know it.

Whereas Futurism could only represent movement and suggest it to the imagination, Kineticism actually presents it. Thus, the machinist dream of the futurists became a concrete reality thanks to kinetic art. As if that weren’t enough, kineticism made art accessible by calling for the active participation of the viewer and by conceiving a public art truly integrated into the environment.

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