Kinetic Sculpture: The Artistic Movement of Motion

Motion within art is the incorporation of a new, fourth dimension – time.  Kinetics, whether real or perceived, is an element of artwork that can bring a piece closer to a representation of reality.  This phenomenon has caused motion within art to become more popular within modern art, increasingly featured in artwork and in public art displays.

One area of kinetic art that has grown most recently is within the area of sculpture.

Through kinetic sculpture, artists are able to add the element of motion into sculpture, releasing the confines of stationary perception.  As a whole, the sculptures generally build off of concepts within physics, resulting in pieces that highlight balance and both patterned and random movement.

Kinetic sculpture is relatively new, first works emerging in the early 1900s with the work of Michael Duchamp.  The first recognized example is Duchamp’s Bicycle Wheel (1913), a simple construction of a metal wheel mounted on a painted wooden stool.  It was referred to as an “assisted readymade” piece, as it was simply composed of re-purposed parts.  Although simple, it brought attention to the potential for the movement within sculptural art.

Other works soon followed.  Naum Gabo created the Standing Wave (1919), a piece made out of the steel metal and protruding from a wooden box.  A mechanical motor vibrated the rod, which imitated a standing wave.  Gabo’s piece is considered the first intentional kinetic sculpture, and is currently featured in the Tate Museum.  Alexander Calder began developing non-mechanized mobile-like creations, many of his pieces featuring wire arms and motion driven by air currents.  Artwork such as Calder’s Arc of Petals (1941) were composed of sheet aluminum and iron wire, using displacement of balance to develop the light, easy movements.

These preliminary pieces spurred the creation of a diverse range of contemporary kinetic art pieces.  Many of these follow the themes of early examples.  Martin Boyce’s Suspended Fall (2005) mimics the motif of Calder’s early mobiles;  it is a hanging piece composed of six steel elements connected by wire, also easily moved by air currents.

Other modern pieces, such as Haliades (2012) by John Douglas Powers take more mechanized approaches to kinetic sculpture.  This piece features three separate parts, its wave-like movements powered by an electric motor.

Giant Worm created by Shih Chieh Huang takes a much different approach to kinetic sculpture, an impressive installation at the Worchester Art Museum.  The piece was created from over 100 components but is mainly made of plastic.  Giant Worm is pressurized by box fans to resemble movements associated with moving and creating, creating a more visitor interactive.

As a whole, kinetic sculpture is an art form that has become widely developed and increasingly interactive.  It is the incorporation of an element that makes pieces feel more alive and visually stimulating.  As it continues to grow, the movement becomes increasingly diverse and wide-ranging, catching the eyes of viewers.  Kinetic sculpture will continue to create waves within the art world, moving the hearts of many through a balance of art and motion.

About the Author

Chiamaka Okonkwo is a freshman at UNC Charlotte and a volunteer for Sanskrit Literary Arts Magazine. She is pursuing a major in biology and a minor in public health. She enjoys spending her free time reading, exploring, and playing Tetris.