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A Buyer's Guide to Collecting Kinetic Art

ByThe Artling Team
A Buyer's Guide to Collecting Kinetic Art

Image courtesy of Orb Mag

With a fascinating, long spanning history, kinetic art is one of the many important movements the art world has witnessed. The word kinetic refers to motion and movement; kinetic art is art in any medium with a perceivable movement by the viewer. From simple sculptures to intricate installations, acquiring kinetic art is a great way to add dynamic movement to your space.

What is Kinetic Art?

Kinetic art, also known as mechanical or moving sculpture, is art that moves and interacts with its environment. It can be made up of various elements such as mirrors, lights, gears or even water to give an impression of fluidity in motion. Kinetic art is a two- or three-dimensional artwork that moves on its own or is set in motion by the viewer or its environment. It encompasses several genres, including mobiles and sculptures that spin, rotate, and move in all directions.

Gismo by Jean Tinguely

Image of Gismo by Jean Tinguely. Image courtesy of Artland Magazine

Kinetic art can also move as a whole through the application of one or more motors. Some are powered by the passage of time and some by wind power. They're often associated with moving sculptures, mobiles, and similar moving mechanical devices. Kinetic art is not only dynamic but often lends the illusion of flow and movement where there is none in the stationary object, thus making it an appealing subject matter. These are not just sculptures that sit on a shelf; they come to life as they move in all kinds of settings, indoors or outdoors.

Brief History of Kinetic Art

Kinetic art dates back thousands of years with some examples found in ancient China and Greece. While pieces like these were simple in design, they laid the groundwork for what we now know as kinetic art today.

In the late 1800s, art was changing. The Impressionists were painting with new colors and styles, and artists, like Picasso, were experimenting with cubism in their practices. During this period of artistic exploration, kinetic art reemerged and made a statement in the contemporary art scene. Early kinetic artists would use devices like fans to create motion in their works. As technology has advanced, kinetic artists now utilize motors that react to sound waves or computer programs to create movement in their pieces.

Despite its existence since 1887, most people think the kinetic art movement started in the 1950s and 1960s. The term kinetic art was first coined by artist Jean-Claude Pierre in 1954 after he used the phrase "kine art" in a manifesto for his exhibition at Galerie des Beaux-Arts in Paris. Since then, this broad category has been adopted by numerous artists across different mediums looking for ways to transcend traditional static forms of expression through methods such as light or sound that result in movement either on their own or when interacted with by viewers.

Notable Contemporary Kinetic Artists

Image of Marcel Duchamp. Image courtesy of Artsper Magazine

Marcel Duchamp

One of the most notable kinetic artists of all time is Marcel Duchamp. He was a French artist born in Normandy in northern France who was best known for his 'readymades', which were everyday objects that had been selected and placed in an art context by the artist. His earliest known 'readymade' was the Bicycle Wheel, which was very simply a wheel mounted on a wooden stool. Not only did he revolutionize modernist art with these objects, but he also created one of the world's first kinetic sculptures in 1921. Duchamp felt the enjoyment of visual aesthetics was superficial and was more favorable of intellectually-driven approaches to art. Therefore, he gravitated towards exploring kinetic artworks and studying their perspective and optics.

Image of Alexander Calder. Image courtesy of Thought Co

Alexander Calder

American artist Alexander Calder is known by many as a sculptor and was also an early modernist kinetic artist. He is often credited with being the first to use moving parts in his sculptures, which is part of the reason why he is considered a pioneer in kinetic art, making him one of the forefathers. His kinetic works relied on the weight of materials to achieve balance and suspension in the air. He popularized kinetic art in the 1960s through his sculptures, such as "The Wave" and "La Grande Vitesse", which was the first-ever public sculpture to be funded by the National Endowment for the Arts.

Image of Jesús Rafael Soto. Image courtesy of Soto

Jesús Rafael Soto

Venezuelan artist and sculptor Jesús Rafael Soto initially pursued illusionistic painting before delving into creating immersive installations that redefined kinetic art. Soto's installations feature multiple suspended elements that invite viewers to engage with them by physically navigating through them. Adopting an artistic language that utilizes the effects of movement, his installations offered a fresh perspective and interpretation of kinetic art, making him one of the pioneers in the medium. Some of Soto's earliest techniques employed vertical wires positioned against a backdrop of black and white lines to evoke the illusion of flickering movements when viewers walk past it.

Image of Rebecca Horn. Image courtesy of Bagtazo

Rebecca Horn

German artist Rebecca Horn has been constructing works through the mediums of performances, film, installations, paintings, and sculptures. Moreover, all her works were interconnected by a sense of logic. Initially delving into the experimentation and boundaries of the human body, Horn soon gravitated to creating kinetic sculptures that developed their own vitality. In 1986, Horn broadened her exploration of kinetic artworks by incorporating machines and various objects like violins, suitcases, batons, and large funnels, thus creating artworks that had materials that were liberated from their conventional uses and reflected the themes of mythology, history, literature, and spirituality.

Dynamic Structure by Willem van Weeghel

Not all kinetic artworks are large sculptures with elaborate installations and motions. A great example of a simple and minimalist work would be 'Dynamic Structure' by Willem van Weeghel.

The artwork is currently homed in HighHouse, an extraordinary day-to-night venue for nightlife and culinary experiences located at 1 Raffles Place, Singapore. The artwork greets guests in the lift lobby of level one and is a computer-controlled kinetic artwork. The artwork is constantly in movement, in a series of randomized, smooth transitions to create different forms.

What should you know when buying kinetic art?

When you're looking at different pieces of kinetic art, there are some factors you should consider when buying kinetic art for your space.

Image of Loops by SpY. Image courtesy of designboom

The first and most important factor you should look out for before settling on a new piece is whether the artwork’s movement is smooth and well-balanced. Notice how much movement there is on each side of the piece; does the whole artwork move together, or does each element have their own motion?

Some pieces have subtle, barely noticeable movements. When looking at a piece like this you should pay attention to how the movement changes based on your proximity and orientation to the work. Consider the space you’re placing the work in, and if it produces any sound or has an interactive element.

Image courtesy of Galerie Magazine

The overall visual appeal is an important consideration when selecting a work for your space. Be sure to evaluate the different colors and patterns of the work, and how they suit the environment. Bright colors like reds and oranges can make a room cheerful while more subtle hues like blues or purples may be better suited in an office environment.

Consider the longevity of the mechanics of the piece -- does it require power to move, or does it move based on external natural factors like wind motion? Kinetic sculptures are made from materials that often have a low weight-to-strength ratio such as aluminum or stainless steel, so consider the durability of a work. Some artworks come with warranties for a limited period of time, so ask the artist or gallery if they offer this, should a problem arise.

Finally, you want to make sure that the artwork is in good condition, and the movement is to your liking, before you proceed with your purchase.


Taking these factors into consideration will ensure your kinetic art piece is worth its value to be a part of your art collection. Should you need additional guidance or have custom requirements, you can explore our dedicated corporate art consultancy services or chat with our expert curators here.

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