Open Works. L’art en mouvement

OPEN WORKS. Art in Movement, 1955 – 1975

Kinetic Art rocks the foundations at Barcelona’s Casa Milà (La Pedrera)

7G5A7645.jpgJesús Rafael Soto, La spirale, 1955. Courtesy Fundació Catalunya La Pedrera

“My art doesn’t have any message.
It’s the audience that give the sense to my art”
– François Morellet

It’s all about visual vibration and rhythm at the Catalunya La Pedrera Foundation in Barcelona whose current exhibition is showinga pulsating selection of kinetic art from 1950 onwards. OPEN WORKS. Art in Movement, 1955 – 1975 brings together 67 artworks by 37 international artists who sought to transform how art was made by switching the role of the viewer from passive to active. The works on show rotate, revolve, twirl and hover in the air, dynamically questioning viewers’ perceptions and capture the eye in ordered kaleidoscopic chaos. Covering a 20-year period, the show legitimately includes early works pivotal to the Kinetic and parallel Optical Art movements in Europe. Marcel Duchamp and Alexander Calder feature as well as François Morellet, Heinz Mack and Alberto Biasi from the first generation of kinetic pioneers. Occasional pieces from contemporary visual artist Ann Veronica Janssens and Hepworth Sculpture Prize nominee Mona Hatoum also take their place amongst the earlier works, proving the longevity of an art movement which saw its heyday around 1960.

Historically, movement in art goes back to the pioneering attempts of the Impressionists who gave us realist interpretations of motion to prove that art is not rigid. Remember Manet’s ‘Le Ballet Espagnol’ of 1862? Or Degas’ horse races, ballet dancers and ‘L’Orchestre de l’Opéra’ which interpret definite, multidimensional movement beyond the flatness of the canvas.  And Monet’s inexact brushstrokes creating motion in vibrating waterscapes? Theirs were the first innovative forays into incorporating movement into art. The Abstract Expressionists would later integrate bodily movement into largescale compositions; Pollock’s vigorously-charged, gestural action paintings produced in his drip series were a new way to control chaos and a breakthrough in the principle of kinetic art.

When Pablo Picasso welded a found bicycle seat and handle-bars together to create ‘Head of a Bull’ in 1942 (a sophisticatedly simple work described as his most famous discovery!) he introduced industrial metals into artists’ studios and forged the way to a revolution in 20th-century sculpture. ‘Closed’ solid forms carved from blocks gave way to ‘open’ forms freely constructed around an empty core space and, working with Barcelona metalworker Julio Gonzalez, it presented the chance to explore spatial, three-dimensionality and other possibilities. In the early 20th century Vladimir Tatlin, Naum Gabo, Rodchenko and Man Ray were some of the first to conceive works incorporating mechanical movement and the mobile. As Calder pursued artistic research into actual motion in the 20s and 30s set against a Constructivist – Surrealist – Dadaist landscape, it provided an easy transition for avant-garde artists into kinetic art and the thrust into this new trend in the 50s finally took place.

7G5A7721.jpgNicolas Schöffer, Spatiodynamique n° 16, 1953. Courtesy Fundació Catalunya La Pedrera

The publication of Umberto Eco’s 1962 seminal theory ‘The Open Work’ which proposed the concept of ‘openness’ – that every work of art is ‘open’ in terms of interpretation as a result of the artist’s decision to leave arrangements of some constituents of an artwork to the public or to chance – is the banner under which the Catalunya La Pedrera Foundation exhibition draws its focus.

Central to the show are a group of artists considered to be the last avant-garde of the 20thcentury. Working predominantly in Paris, Milan, Padua and Dusseldorf, they were independent individuals who pondered the same issues and themes around the integration of movement in art. Calder, notably with his mobiles was amongst many including Pol Bury, Jean Tinguely and Nicolas Schöffer playing a leading part in the development of mechanical art. Others developed  lumino-kinetic pieces. Their remit was not only concerned with changing the art, but changing the reality, achieved through a revised relationship between art and viewer. Far from being permanent, they suggested that an artwork only reaches a state of completion with the active participation and interpretation of the spectator.

7G5A7586.jpgAlexander Calder, Typography, 1972. Courtesy Fundació Catalunya La Pedrera

Myriad changes taking place in the 1950s and 60s were crucial to their artistic evolution. Conventional painting and sculpture gave way to more experimental art practices drawing on new industrial materials, technologies and colour theory concerned with light, space and movement.  A link between art and science was forged revealing a new vision of a world in constant change and one that fit perfectly with the artists’ belief that integrating reality into a piece of art also meant integrating objects that are part of reality. The viewer became an active participant, engaging with open structures in real time and space thus engendering an element of multiplicity and plurality in art.

In the main building courtyard at La Pedrera, Marina Apollonio’s hypnotic 1966 black and white ‘Spazio ad Attivazione Cinetica’ spiral attracts visitors in from where they proceed through the displays touching, playing with, being immersed in, or in the case of Gianni Colombo’s ‘Bariestesia’ asymmetrical stairs, climbing on many of the exhibits. The scope of work presented is testimony to the drive of these artists in their individual quest to create an inclusive, non-elitist art for all. Categorized into two concordant branches, machines, mobiles and light objects demonstrate the notion of real movement. Hatoum’s ‘+ and – ‘ (1994) replaces paint and canvas with a motorized, toothed metal arm and circular bed of sand moving in hypnotic, continual grooving.  It’s continual act of building and destroying is a modern-day kinetic gesture evoking existence and disappearance, displacement and migration, all too pertinent in today’s world of constant flux.

Other geometric abstract pieces more closely associated with illusory Op Art such as those by Victor Vasarely (who applied the term ‘cinétisme’ to his works in virtual movement) focus on apparent movement triggering complex visual sensations, activated by the viewer’s perception of shape, colour and position in relation to the work. Optical illusions on plexiglas by Venezuelan op and kinetic artist Jesús Rafael Soto evoke geometric, organic forms emphasizing the viewer’s participation and interpretation as the work alters via movement perceived through the eyes. And a polychrome aesthetic universe by Carlos Cruz-Diez explores colour phenomena.  ‘Chromosaturation’ (1965/2018) is a site-specific interactive chamber of colour composed of fluorescent lights with blue, red and green filters. Challenging perception by disrupting the way in which the viewer processes light, it becomes an autonomous reality of colour, time and space.

Other artists complement the show with visually-striking pieces – Julio Le Parc, Takis, Lygia Clark, Günther Uecker as well as notable artists from Catalonia and Spain including Leandre Cristòfol, Ángel Duarte, Jordi Pericot, Eusebio Sempere and Francisco Sobrino.

Set within the cultural centre of Gaudí’s curvaceous Casa Milà on the Paseo de Gràcia, the show is an immersive treat and an aesthetic assault on the senses as it visually and physically pulls the public in to be a part of art.

7G5A8852.jpgCarlos Cruz-Diez, Chromosaturation, 1965/2018. Courtesy Fundació Catalunya La Pedrera

7G5A7741.jpgJulio Le Parc, Cloison lames réfléchissantes, 1966. Courtesy Fundació Catalunya La Pedrera

7G5A8108.jpgVictor Vasarely, Cheyt-rond-va, 1970. Courtesy Fundació Catalunya La Pedrera

7G5A8303.jpgJulio Le Parc, Continuel lumière cylindre, 1962. Courtesy Fundació Catalunya La Pedrera

7G5A8053.jpgMarina Apollonio, Spazio ad attivazione cinètica, 1966/2018. Courtesy Fundació Catalunya La Pedrera

OPEN WORKS. Art in Movement, 1955 – 1975
La Pedrera until 27 January 2019
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© 2018