I have a challenge for you: name three artist (other than Jeff and Carl) that make kinetic sculptures without Google-ing “Kinetic Sculptor”. Honestly, I get as far as Duchamp and his bicycle wheel and I’m out. Not being trained in art history could be a factor in my failure, but I like to think it’s because theirs is a field not populated by many. Walking through the Minneapolis Institute of Art last week, I saw nothing that could compare to a Zachmann original. It was kind of cool to think about, but it also made me wonder if Jeff finds particular kinetic inspiration or feels “kinetic kinship” with any artists in any museums around the country. Turns out, he does!
Jeff’s favorite museum is the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City. Among other amazing works of art, they have a piece there called Calder’s Circus. Created from 1926 to 1931 by Alexander Calder, the piece is a sculptural, kinetic representation of a circus. Using wire, wood, metal, cloth, yarn, paper, cardboard, leather, string, rubber tubing, corks, buttons, rhinestones, pipe cleaners, and bottle caps, Calder made movable models that performed all parts of the circus. The circus has everything from a ringleader with an impressive top hat to a daredevil lion tamer. Check it out:
Calder first started the piece in Paris, where he would perform it for friends with comments in French. The circus went back and forth with him from Paris to New York until it was finished in 1931. Each piece in the circus moved mechanically with manipulation by Calder’s hands. Jeff says seeing the circus was one of the things that turned him on to kinetic art in the first place. The energy and heart that went into the creation of such an intricate work is arguably what is most impressive about the circus, and the artist’s wholehearted involvement with his work really struck Jeff when he saw it for the first time. It inspired him to do what he loved and what interested him the most. “The guy never grew up,” he says of Calder. “He grew up just enough to use the tools.”
While Calder’s work is much different from anything made by a Zachmann, it still proves to be an inspiration and a peer to their form of kinetic art. Creating intriguing movement from static pieces in order to bring joy and/or excitement and/or childlike wonder to the viewer is not something most artists can do or even try to do. It is my hope that in a couple decades, someone will watch a video of a Zachmann or see it hanging in a museum and will think to themselves, “That guy grew up just enough to use the tools, and that’s where I’ll stop too.”
Below is part 1 of a video of Alexander Calder performing and explaining his circus. It’s really fun to watch, so I encourage you to take the time to do so. Then, leave a note about your favorite museum or your favorite piece of art and why you love it in the comments for this post!