Michael Delahoyde, PhD

Professor of English

Kinetic Art

Dr. Michael Delahoyde
Washington State University


Popular especially in the 1950s and ’60s, Kinetic Art is that which moves or appears to move, a “form of plastic art in which the movement of forms, colours and planes is the means to obtain a changing whole” (qtd. in Dempsey 197). It’s a valid concept since, as Jean Tinguely said in 1959, “Everything moves continuously. Immobility does not exist.” Kinetic works range from those that sway gracefully and with hypnotic slowness to those “junk machines” that become explosive “happenings.”

Alexander Calder (1898-1976)

Four Red Systems (Mobile) (1960)
After 1934, American artist Calder explored the Dada notion of the element of chance in art. Arp and Miro inspired his interest in organic shapes. And Duchamp had called his early abstract hand- and motor-driven sculptures “mobiles.”

László Moholy-Nagy (1895-1946) — Hungarian-American artist.

Light-Space Modulator (1930)
Combining an interest in science and technology with such art contraptions as Duchamp’s early Dada piece, Bicycle Wheel, Moholy-Nagy created an electronically powered rotating sculpture of metal, glass, and light beams. The piece transforms its surrounding space through the play of light reflecting off different shapes and materials. “I felt like a wizard’s apprentice. Its coordinated movements and the articulations of the light-and-shade sequences were so surprising I almost started believing in magic.”

Here’s a short film of the piece in action!

Jean Tinguely (1925-1991) –Swiss artist known for his junk machines.

Homage to New York (17 March 1960)
This piece has the specific date because it was an event at the Museum of Modern Art. The machine self-ignited, played piano, turned on a radio, spooled out rolls of text, lighted smoke signals, set off klaxons, exploded stink bombs, and committed suicide by falling on itself.
At the end of the ’50s, Tinguely was involved in “Meta-matics”– drawing machines that made abstract art — and such things as fountains that sprayed art.

Works Consulted

The Art Book. London: Phaidon Press Ltd., 1996.

Dempsey, Amy. Art in the Modern Era: A Guide to Styles, Schools & Movements. NY: Harry N. Abrams Inc., Pub., 2002.