Kinesthesia: Latin American Kinetic Art, 1954-1969 at the Palm Springs Art Museum

Installation view of “Cosmic Dialogues: Selections From The Latin American Art Collection, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, May 14–August 23, 2015, Featuring Gyula Kosice La Ciudad Hidroespacial, 1946–1972. Acrylic, paint, metal and light, the Museum Of Fine Arts, Houston. Museum purchase funded by the Caroline Wiess Law Accessions Endowment Fund, 2009.29.1-.26, © Estate of Gyula Kosice

Over the past few decades, the term “analog” seems to have acquired new significance, often tinged with nostalgia for a bygone era. That all of the kinetic art on view in the Palm Springs Art Museum’s Kinesthesia: Latin American Kinetic Art, 1954-1969 hearkens back to this “analog” period is part of its charm. There is tangible sense of the mechanical throughout the exhibition, often accompanied by an audible whir of miniature motors or the hum of incandescent bulbs. The exhibition, however, is not merely a trip back through beloved modernist tropes. Rather, it opens the door to the reexamination of a movement that remains largely unrecognized in the United States: the perceptually perplexing abstractions of Kinetic Art.

The inspiration for Kinesthesia first struck curator Dan Cameron after viewing Real/Virtual: Argentine Kinetic Art of the 1960s at the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes in Argentina five years ago. The visit introduced the experienced curator to myriad artists previously unknown to him. Cameron began to explore the broader story of Kinetic Art in Latin America, looking for artistic connections, experiences and shared influences which led to the multi-national exhibition currently on view.

Though ultimately Cameron found little evidence of international discourse among the various kinetic artists working in different parts of Latin America, there were many similar characteristics, including a shared rejection of representational illusionism and embrace of Constructivism and Concrete Art. Additionally, the kinetic movement also provided a means to disrupt traditional boundaries between painting, sculpture and other artistic disciplines, as demonstrated by Jesús Rafael Soto’s Vibración (Vibration) series. Kinesthesia opens with optical-kinetic works by Venezuelan-born Soto that betray the close alliance of Kinetic Art with the popular Op Art movement. Upending expectations from the start, it is worth noting that none of Soto’s geometrically patterned artworks actually move. Instead, the perception of movement is created as the viewer moves physically around the work, producing a dizzying sensation of vibrations that destabilize the viewing experience.

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