KINETIC ART – #ZoomOnMovements

“Kinetic”, like every difficult word, comes from the ancient Greek kìnesis, movement. It won’t be a surprise, then, if this art is totally concentrated on movement. You may think that it involves videos or performances, but actually it stays completely away from the artistic media that imply movement by definition (it would have been too easy, come on!): the Kinetic artists use painting (creating the illusion of movement, in what was called the Optical Art), sculpture and installations, using machines or just the gravity to create a perceptible dynamism.

Historical and artistic background

kinetic art.PNG

Risultati immagini per bicycle wheel duchamp
Marcel Duchamp’s Bicycle Wheel (1913)

The first signs of the search for movement in artistic practices relate back to the post-impressionists and their particular techniques (in Turner’s paintings you could almost assume that the natural elements are coming out of the canvases). This trend went on with avant-guards like the Futurism, even Marcel Duchamp, in his early career, made attempts in re-creating the movement in paintings. More recently though, Marcel Duchamp created the work that is considered at the same time the first ready-made of the history of art and the first kinetic artwork: the Bycicle Wheel (1913). In effect, this artwork, made of an upside-down bycicle wheel and a stool, was created to be moved by the observer! Now they say not to touch it in museums, but in this way they are not completely respecting the artwork as it was meant to be.

After this important step forward towards the dynamism, the artists tried to experiment with this new concept more and more, until the exhibition that will really launch the Kinetic Art movement, that no one had theorized before, was organized: Le Mouvementat the Galerie Denise René in Paris (1955).

The Kinetic Art movement was influenced by the Constructivism as well, especially by the importance of the geometric abstraction in the constructivist art (I know that it doesn’t mean anything like this, but if you are interested here is an external link to find out more).


  • The most important feature of the Kinetic Art, as we said already a million times, is movement, and the artists wanted to include it as a protagonist in their works. The artworks in this way were existing not only in space, but also in time: depending on the moment the visitor was observing it, the work could have changed, moved, even disappear.
  • Risultati immagini per tinguely homage to new york
    Jean Tinguely, Homage to New York, 1960. This work is design to destruct itself.

    The relationship between the machines and the human beings was investigated more, making some machines and their work the actual work of art (but coming to the conclusion that the human beings had still some more value, despite all our flaws): this concept was specifically investigated by Jean Tinguely, and we will show you some examples below.

  • The popularity of cinema, videos, and the speed our progress was having, were all inspirational for the development of Kinetic Art.

Artists involved

Nicholas Schöffer

Risultati immagini per CYSP 1 (1956) Artist: Nicholas Schöffer
Nicholas Schöffer, CYSP 1, 1956

Of this artist I will analyze one specific artwork that I believe it’s ingenious: CYSP 1 (1956). The letters mean literally “Cybernetics and Spatiodynamics” and the work is build with some sensors on its moving base, capable of recognizing colors, changing of the lights, movements in its surroundings. According to what this sensor was able to “see”, the machine could react with specific movements related to the triggering factor. What was happening then was a sort of “robotic dance”, always different and difficul to predict.


Alexander Calder

Risultati immagini per alexander calder
Alexander Calder, Untitled, 1937

Calder created mainly two kinds of works: the so-called “mobiles” and the “stabiles”. He was the first artist to concentrate on moving installations as his primary research, and he developed quickly his own style. He thought about taking the concept of the line in drawings, and putting it suspended in the air. His installation are abstract and have no specific meaning (as far as I know!), but they move following the movements of air and the gravity force.

Jean Tinguely

Risultati immagini per jean tinguely metamatic
One of the Méta-matic machines in the moment of creating a drawing

Jean Tinguely at the beginning of his career was producing machines to create special sounds. After a little bit of experimenting, he created the famous Homage to New York, a machine programmed to destroy itself after being “activated”. The series of machines that I think is the most interesting is the one called Méta-matic (1959): Tinguely built a series of machines that could draw pattern that were always different and not predictable: the machine was the artist? This opens up an unlimited number of discussions, and this is exactly the point of a work of art, right?


Other artists and contributors

Risultati immagini per Movement In Squares (1961). By Bridget Riley.
Movement In Squares (1961). By Bridget Riley

Among the contributors of the Kinetic Art, we have to mention the main artists of the Optical Art – as we said at the beginning, it is a smaller branch of the Kinetic Art – even if we dedicated a whole post to it here. The artists that we cannot forget are Bridget Riley (a woman! It’s rare but it happens that a woman get recognized in the artworld) and Victor Vasarely, check out their work!



Now the idea of incorporating the movement into the artworks is common knowledge for the artists, that have declined it in many different ways: the relational art for example is a perfect way of changing the artwork over time: often in this kind of art the people are allowed to participate in the making of the artwork, letting it modify and transform. But many other artists are using the change and the movement as their driving force, because what people want now is an experience: the static work is often not enough to engage them.

– M.C.

Bibliography and further readings

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