MIT Museum showcases large-scale kinetic art

As part of a yearlong focus on kinetic art, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Museum is offering an exhibition titled “5000 Moving Parts,” showcasing works by four contemporary artists. Plus, there’s the added bonus of a 1968 electromagnetic work by Greek artist Vassilakis Takis.

The exhibition, curated by Laura Knott, is on display at the Cambridge, MA, museum from November 21, 2013, through November 30, 2014. The four featured artists are Arthur Ganson, Anne Lilly, Rafael Lozano-Hemmer, and John Douglas Powers.

Ganson‘s mechanical sculptures have been shown at the museum for more than 20 years, according to a release from the museum. For “5000 Moving Parts,” Ganson worked with sound artist Christina Campanella to create an audio component for his piece titled “Machine With Breath.”

Lilly has provided three works for the exhibition: “To Conjugate,” a larger-scale piece, along with “To Caress” and “Eighteen Eighteen.” The sculptures are intended to provoke connections between the physical world and our own internal one, according to the museum.

To Conjugate” from Anne Lilly on Vimeo.

In “Please Empty Your Pockets” from Lozano-Hemmer, visitors can place small items on a conveyor belt, which carries them through a scanner. The scanner retains images of the items, and these images reappear in the future alongside new objects traveling through the scanner, all becoming part of the installation. (Video is available on Lozano-Hemmer’s site.)

The two works from Powers are “Ialu” and “Haliades.” The large sculptures feature numerous wooden pieces powered by a motor, conveying a fluid sense of motion.

Ialu” from John Douglas Powers on Vimeo.

Last but not least is “Electromagnetic I, No. 13,” a 1968 work by Takis, who was a fellow at MIT’s Center for Advanced Visual Studies in the 1960s.

Why kinetic art?

The term “kinetic” means motion, leading to the most basic definition of kinetic art as, well, art that moves. In a blog about the exhibition, Knott offers some interesting thoughts on why kinetic art might sometimes fly under the radar.

When she discussed the topic with Brazilian artist Vik Muniz, he speculated that it’s been overlooked in art history because it doesn’t need to be interpreted by critics: “Almost anyone can ‘get’ a kinetic work right away, with or without an advanced degree in art history,” Knott wrote of the exchange.

Knott said she suspects there’s more to the story, such as the issue of maintenance, for example. It’s not hard to imagine that a twisting, whirring mechanical piece might need more attention from a museum than a still painting.

Such questions were top of mind as the exhibition was developed, she said. “Why make a kinetic art exhibition? What is it about this form that creates a condition in which the work is simultaneously adored by the public and ignored in the critical discourse?”

“My aims for this exhibition are to show work that has all the depth and richness of the best work in any medium, and to give our visitors an experience that they will (a) never forget and (b) value,” she concluded.


Nicole is an editor and writer living in San Francisco.

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