What Is Kinetic Art?

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  • Written By: Britt Archer
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 23 July 2014
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Kinetic art is artwork, especially sculpture, that features movement. This type of art, invented in the 20th century, has components that can be set in motion by something external, such as wind, or by different types of internal mechanics. Alexander Calder and Marcel Duchamp are two pioneers of kinetic art. A mechanical engineer who turned to art, Alexander Calder created large mobiles that move in the wind, while one of Marcel Duchamp’s famous pieces features a bicycle wheel implanted in the wooden seat of a stool.

The popularity of kinetic art grew following a popular exhibit in the mid-1950s in Paris that featured both Duchamp and Calder, plus works by Pol Bury, Jean Tinguely, Yaacov Agam, Victor Vasarely and Jesus Rafael Soto. Alexander Calder saw the art form as a composition of motions, similar to the way painters present a composition of colors. The new art form brought forth a new way of thinking about art, with artists showing beauty could be found in motion or in the illusion of motion.

Kinetic art remained popular throughout the 1960s and mid-1970s. An offshoot, lumino kinetic art, incorporates light with motion. Movement can be induced in kinetic art in a number of different ways. Sound waves, wind, solar power, steam, water, electricity, clockwork, springs and even human touch have all been relied on by artists to put their pieces in motion.


Four threads within the kinetic art movement became established by 1970. One thread consisted of the mobile as created by Alexander Calder and his followers, and a second thread consisted of pieces dubbed junk art, encompassing some of the works of Marcel Duchamp. A third, op art, is a type of visual illusion of movement. The fourth thread encompasses artistic creations based on light.

Op art became popular in the 1960s. Unlike a three-dimensional mobile or sculpture, op art is only two dimensions yet it still gives the perception of movement through visual illusions. The artist’s use of pattern, lines and colors can trick the eye into seeing movement when none is present.


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