Kinetic Art
Definition, Characteristics of Movement, History, Collections.

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Kinetic Art (1920s onwards)


What is Kinetic Art? - Characteristics
History and Development
Contemporary Kinetic Art (1970-present)

Examples of Kinetic Art

Capella 4B (1965) MoMA, NY.
By Victor Vasarely.

Heureka (1966) by Jean Tinguely.
Zurich-Seefeld. Created for the Swiss
National Exhibition in Lausanne,
this work has stood at Zurichhorn
since 1967. It is a large kinetic
sculpture made from steel wheels,
iron bars, metal pipes,
and various electric motors.

.125 (1957, JFK Airport)
By Alexander Calder

What is Kinetic Art? - Characteristics

In visual art, the term kinetic art, derived from the Greek word kinesis, refers to works that incorporate real or apparent movement. It explores how things look when they move, so in its widest definition, kinetic art embraces a huge number of different art forms, as well as media types and styles. Thus, for instance, it may include cinematic and animation art, happenings and other types of performance art such as mime, clockwork/ clocktower figurines, stroboscopic or light-related artworks (Lumino Kinetic art), land art or any artifact that disappears (snowman) or undergoes a process of visual change, robotic art, motion graphics and other artworks created with new media technologies. It also incorporates Op art paintings, drawings and prints, whose 'motion' is merely an optical illusion. The most famous works of Kinetic art, however, are various types of hand-powered or motor-powered sculpture by Jean Tinguely, and mobiles invented by Alexander Calder, whose movement is caused by air currents.

For details of art movements
see: History of Art.
For a chronology of events
see: History of Art Timeline.

For a list of the Top 10 painters/
sculptors: Best Artists of All Time.
For the best oils/watercolours,
see: Greatest Paintings Ever.

History and Development

Although Futurism should be credited with the conceptual introduction of motion into art, the actual word 'kinetic' was first applied to the visual arts by the brothers Antoine Pevsner (1884-1962) and Naum Gabo (1890-1977) in their Realistic Manifesto (1920), which annunciated the ideals of Constructivism. One of Gabo's earliest works, Kinetic Sculpture (Standing Wave) (1919-20, Tate, London), was an electrically powered strip of wire which oscillated rapidly from side to side, creating the illusion of solid matter and thus simulating the replacement of volume by space. He was joined by Alexander Rodchenko (1891-1956) who turned away from painting to create a range of suspended geometric-shaped plywood objects, such as Hanging Construction No 12 (1919, George Costakis Collection). These works showed how mass could dissolve into subtle effects of movement and light. Meanwhile, at the Bauhaus design school in Germany, the Hungarian designer Laszlo Moholy-Nagy was producing his Light-Space-Modulator (1922-30, Busch-Reisinger Museum, Harvard University) and other works involving mechanical movement, and in New York (1920), Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968) - having already created crude prototypes like Bicycle Wheel (1913, George Pompidou Centre) - was also investigating movement with his Rotative Plaques (Rotary Glass Plate and Rotary Demisphere) in collaboration with Man Ray.

Alexander Calder: Mobiles and Stabiles

Following the theoretical foresight of the Futurists, Gabo's vibrating wire, Rodchenko's suspended plywood and Duchamp's junk art, Alexander Calder (1898-1976) made motion the core of his aesthetics. Influenced by late Surrealism, and 20th century painters such as the Dutchman Piet Mondrian and the Spaniard Joan Miro, the engineer-trained Calder created a world of weightless linear sculptures (mobiles and stabiles), moving, turning and dancing on air. Indeed, for almost two decades he was the leading exponent of moving sculpture.

1950s Growth

The 1950s witnessed a new interest in artistic motion, as evidenced by the Le Mouvement exhibition in 1955 at the Rene Gallery, Paris, which showcased works by established names like Calder and Duchamp plus newcomers like the Israeli artist Yaacov Agam (b.1928) (the pioneer of spectator participation art), the Belgian painter and designer Pol Bury (1922-2005), the Venezuelan experimental artist Jesus Rafael Soto (1923-2005), the Swiss sculptor Jean Tinguely (1925-91) and the Hungarian painter Victor Vasarely (1906-97). Other kinetic artists coming to the fore included the Greek sculptor Takis (Panayotis Vassilakis) (b.1925), and the Hungarian-born constructivist Nicolas Schoffer (1912-92).



Golden Age (1960-75)

Kinetic art flourished throughout the period (c.1960-1975). In 1960, Jean Tinguely produced his extraordinary self-destructing sculpture Homage to New York (1960, Museum of Modern Art, New York). In 1961, a major international art museum review of kinetic art entitled "Movement in Art" showed to huge audiences throughout Europe. In 1964, the Rene Gallery held Le Mouvement II exhibition in Paris, while in 1965, "The Responsive Eye", a major Kinetic and Op Art show was held at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Kinetic art also enjoyed significant success at the Venice Biennale, the Sao Paulo Biennale and the Paris Biennale during the 60s. To maintain its momentum, the movement borrowed from the early modernists and also from contemporary styles, materials and high-tech media. New variants were formed, including Lumino Kinetic art and Optical Art.

Kinetic Art: 1970-present

By about 1970, one might say there were four influential strands which made up most Kinetic art: first, junk art, begun by Duchamp and continued by Jean Tinguely; second, the mobile and its derivatives, pioneered by Calder and continued by George Rickey (1907-2002), Pol Bury and Jesus Rafael Soto; third, light-based constructions initiated by Laszlo Moholy-Nagy and others, and continued by experimentalists like Nicolas Schoffer, Luis Tomasello (b.1915), Nino Calos (b.1926), Martha Boto (b.1925), Francois Morellet (b.1926), Hugo Demarco (1932-95) and Gyorgy Kepes; fourth, illusionistic Op art, a form of trompe l'oeil painting pioneered by Vasarely and popularized by Bridget Riley (b.1931).

In addition to those artists and groups already cited above, other groups included Gruppo N, founded in Padua in 1959, whose members included Alberto Biasi, Ennio Chiggio Toni Costa, Edouardo Landi, and Manfredo Massironi; GRAV, the French group founded in Paris in 1960, led by the Argentinian artist Julio Le Parc (b.1928); ZERO, led by German artists Otto Piene (b.1928) and Heinz Mack (b.1921); and the Dutch NUL group led by Jan Schoonhoven (1914-94).

Movement and motion continues to appeal to contemporary artists. See, for instance, the LED installation art by Tatsuo Miyajima (b.1957), the robots of Chico MacMurtrie (b.1960), and the varying light stacks of Angela Bullock (b.1964).


Major collections of Kinetic art can be seen in some of the best art museums in the world, including:

Museum of Fine Arts, Houston
• Fine Art Museums of San Francisco
Whitney Museum of American Art, New York
• Jean Tinguely Museum, Basel
George Pompidou Centre, Paris (Musee National d'Art Moderne)
Tate Modern, London

• For information about 20th century contemporary arts, see: Homepage.

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