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[Kinetic art based on rotary motion]

Simple rotation

Marcel Duchamp's Roue de Bicyclette (1913) invites us to experience a simple rotary motion as an aesthetic phenomenon. The rotating wheel remains one of the starkest, prototypical forms of kinetic art.

Increasing the speed of simple rotations, or rotating cleverly designed patterns, gets us into a completely different genre: the generation of optical artefacts through motion blur and other retinal phenomena.

   Duchamp's Bicycle Wheel, its antecedents, and its legacy

   Spinning: Optical artefacts through fast rotation

Abstract compositions with motions as their basic elements

Around 1930, Alexander Calder was inspired by Mondrian's neo-plasticist compositions to develop a form of kinetic constructivism, employing basic repertoires of elementary shapes, elementary colors, and elementary movements (rotation, pendulum, virtual translation; rotation-axis in the picture-plane or orthogonal to it).    

  Alexander Calder: Mobiles à Moteur

Indeterminate nested rotations

Soon after the first Mobiles à Moteur, Calder became interested in irregular, "natural" motion. This led to the Mobiles à Main, where shapes are hung in balanced constructions which can rotate freely. These mobiles are very light; the slightest breeze of air creates (unpredictable) motions. Similar constructions have been presented by Man Ray (1920) and by Bruno Munari (1930's and later).

  Man Ray, Calder, Munari: Mobiles à Main

The useless machine

Several artists have built kinetic sculptures that have the look and feel of real-world machines, with cogwheels, gears and belts – without, however, their functionality. Machines that define themselves as artworks by their uselessness.

  Heinrich Anton Müller

  Jean Tinguely


Prominent among Jean Tinguely's early kinetic works is series of "super-paintings": abstract configurations designed to change continually through the rotation of their elements, thereby transcending the arbitrary limitations of the individual painting.

Gerhard von Graevenitz applied the same strategy in the context of the minimalistic style of Zero, Nul and New Tendencies. Snapshots of his "kinetic objects" may look like chance pieces by Morellet – but in the course of time, infinitely many chance configurations are shown because of the ongoing rotations of the elements.

  Jean Tinguely

  Gerhard von Graevenitz

Historical antecedents

In the history of scientific experimentation and demonstration, we find many examples of set-ups intended to allow the observation of rotary motions of various kinds.

  Uniform nested rotation: Planetariums and telluriums

  Experiments with rolling balls