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16 Nov 2017

Art Movement: 'Kinesthesia' at the Palm Springs Art Museum Shines a Light on an Underappreciated Art Movement

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An installation from a previous exhibition featuring Gyula Kosice's "La Ciudad Hidroespacial," 1946–1972. An installation from a previous exhibition featuring Gyula Kosice's "La Ciudad Hidroespacial," 1946–1972. © Estate of Gyula Kosice

There are many adjectives that could apply to Kinesthesia: Latin American Kinetic Art 1954-1969, an exhibit currently at the Palm Springs Art Museum.

Historic. Groundbreaking. Educational. Mesmerizing.

In the end, however, the most important thing is this: The exhibit, touted as the first in-depth examination of the role played by mid-century South American artists in kinetic art, is a whole lot of interactive fun.

Things move and transform. They shimmer and beguile. The viewer is an essential part of the artwork itself.

Kinetic art is divided into two categories. The first is active, where the art itself is animated by electric motors, wind, magnets or light. (A posting warns that some of the flashing lights may cause seizures in persons with a certain kind of epilepsy.) The second is passive, in which the transformation is dependent on the movement of the viewer themself. This exhibit contains examples of both.

I visited the exhibit on a recent Thursday evening—when admission is free to all. As I entered the museum’s central court, a black hole of an entry beckoned to the crowd. In it, two brilliant red diamonds shimmered and teased. Moving toward them caused the shapes to shift and adjust. As people passed between the diamonds, new illusions were created. A textbook example of passive kinetic art was on display.

Just beyond were artworks with mirrors, slowly turning columns of acrylic, and boxes that flashed lights in different shapes and colors—active kinetic art. The exhibit was already quite educational—but the fun was just beginning. My impression: Kinetic art is the rollercoaster in the amusement park of modern art.

There were different rooms, some light, some dark. In one area were paintings that changed color and design as one walked past them. The “Chromosaturation” chambers by Carlos Cruz-Diez, 1965/2010, invited the viewer to travel through three entirely white spaces illuminated by either blue, red or green saturated light.

“La Ciudad Hidroespacial (Spacial City),” 1946-1972, by Gyula Kosice, depicts the artist’s futuristic vision of our planet—completely covered by water, with floating cities of glass and light suspended above the all-encompassing ocean. People could travel between the cities, but never return to the drowned surface of the Earth.

The exhibit is brilliantly curated by Dan Cameron, whose resume includes a lengthy stint as senior curator of the New Museum in New York City, co-curator of the Taipei Biennial, and the idea man behind Prospect New Orleans.

Be sure to allow time to wander and play among the interactive artworks. Much of the active kinetic artworks are on timers, because the delicate mechanisms are now 50 years old or beyond. They turn on for 15- or 20-minute periods and then shut down for a rest period. You’ll want to go back and forth to see all of them functioning.

Kinetic art is widely regarded as a European movement that began with the 1955 Paris exhibition Le Mouvement. It has been wildly popular throughout the world, but for some reason never caught on that much in the United States. One of the goals of this exhibit is to bring attention to the art—and dispel the myth that kinetic art was solely a European invention.

“Kinetic art emerged in Europe in the early 20th century, with its progenitors employing light, space and motion to create an ethereal, almost sensuous experience for the viewer,” said Elizabeth Armstrong, the Palm Springs Art Museum’s executive director, in a press release. “This exhibition serves as an introduction to the Latin American artists who played critical roles in the movement, while simultaneously providing a curatorial case for kinetic art as an important medium.”

Kinesthesia: Latin American Kinetic Art, 1954-1969 is part of Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA, an exploration of “Latin American and Latino art in dialogue with Los Angeles.” Supported by grants from the Getty Foundation, Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA is taking place January 2018 at more than 70 places across Southern California. 

For more information on Kinesthesia: Latin American Kinetic Art, 1954-1969, including museum hours and admission prices, call 760-322-4800, or visit www.psmuseum.org.

Stephen Berger has been both a painter and ceramic tile artist. He spent his career in fashion and design in New York City and Chicago. He currently lives in Palm Springs and is completing his first novel.

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