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Movements, Styles, and Tendencies Kinetic Art

Kinetic Art

Kinetic Art Collage

Started: 1954

"Just as one can compose colors, or forms, so one can compose motions."

Alexander Calder Signature


Kinetic art is a manifestation of the fascination with motion which defines a whole swathe of modern art from Impressionism onwards. In presenting works of art which moved, or which gave the impression of movement - from mobile, mechanical sculptures to Op art paintings which seemed to rotate or vibrate in front of the eyes - Kinetic artists offered us some of the most quintessential expressions of modern art's concern with presenting rather than representing living reality. Tracing its origins to the Dada and Constructivist movements of the 1910s, Kinetic art grew into a lively avant-garde after the Second World War, especially following the genre-defining group exhibition Le Mouvement, held in Paris in 1955. The group was always defined by division, however, and after thriving for around a decade, interest in the style faded; however, its ideas were carried forward by subsequent generations of artists, and it continues to provide a rich source of creative concepts and technical effects up to the present day.

Key Ideas

In creating paintings, sculptures, and art environments which relied on the presentation of motion for effect, the Kinetic art movement was the first to offer works of art which extended in time as well as space. This was a revolutionary gesture: not only because it introduced an entirely new dimension into the viewing experience, but because it so effectively expressed the new fascination with the interrelationship of time and space which defined modern intellectual culture since the discoveries of Einstein.
Kinetic artists often presented works of art which relied on mechanized movement, or which otherwise explored the drive towards mechanization and scientific knowledge which characterized modern society. Different artists expressed a different stance on this process, however: those more influenced by Constructivism felt that by embracing the machine, art could integrate itself with everyday life, taking on a newly central role in the Utopian societies of the future; artists more influenced by Dada utilized mechanical processes in an anarchic, satirical spirit, to comment on the potential enslavement of humankind by science, technology, and capitalist production.
Many Kinetic artists were interested in analogies between machines and human bodies. Rather than regarding the two entities as radically different - one being soulless and functional, the other governed by intuition and insight - they used their art to imply that humans might be little more than irrational engines of conflicting lusts and urges, like dysfunctional machines. This idea has deep roots in Dada, but is also related to the mid-century concept of cybernetics.
Kinetic Art Image


In its focus on capturing the dynamism of its subject-matter, Kinetic Art expresses a foundational concern of modern art in general, and many critics have cited Post-impressionist painters such as Seurat as the first Kinetic artists. But the first examples of modern artworks which literally incorporate movement - or movable elements - date from the 1910s, and were created by artists working in the Dadaist and Constructivist traditions. Arguably the earliest work of Kinetic art is the Dadaist Marcel Duchamp's Bicycle Wheel (1913), which consists of a wheel placed upside down on a stool; this is also recognized as the first "readymade". In 1920, Constructivist artists Naum Gabo and Antoine Pevsner used the term "Kinetic art" in their Realistic Manifesto; the same year, Gabo completed his Kinetic Construction, a free-standing metal rod set in motion by an electric motor which articulates a delicate wave-pattern in the air, the first work of modern art primarily concerned with expressing movement. Ten years later, the Bauhaus artist László Moholy-Nagy used the term "kinetic" again, to describe the mechanized motion of his Light-Space Modulator (1930), while other figures associated with the Bauhaus, and with the post-Constructivist movement of Concrete Art, produced work across the 1930s-40s which might now be called Kinetic art.

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