My first attempt to visit the Palm Springs Art Museum earlier this year was thwarted by 113ºF weather, but there was no such obstacle when I finally visited on Saturday, 23rd September. It was a dual experience for me—my first time visiting the museum itself, and my first time seeing one of the numerous Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA (PST: LA/LA) exhibits—which made it all the more memorable. For today’s post I’ll be focusing on “Kinesthesia: Latin American Kinetic Art, 1954-1969.”
Very broadly, kinetic art is art that involves movement, whether the art object is machine-powered or shifts by wind, or if the viewer has to move around to fully experience the object. This definition also includes the perception, and not just the actual presence, of movement (more on this later when we come to Jesús Rafael Soto).
Gyula Kosice (b. 1924), an Argentine sculptor who was born in Czechoslovakia (his real name is Ferdinand Fallik; Kosice is taken from his birthplace, Košice), was part of the Madí group. This group was made up of artists who split from the established Concrete-Inventionists such as Tomás Maldonado and Edgar Bayley, because they sought an art that was reconcilable with the idea of invention. Kosice and the Madí group acknowledged artists like Alexander Calder and Marcel Duchamp as their “ancestors”; for them, movement was the end goal of their art, but also the concept that influenced it. (1)
As a Los Angeles Times review points out, though, Calder’s “carefully balanced mobiles” are a far cry from “more iffy artists” who make “[amusing] gizmos [that] don’t prompt much in the way of meaningful contemplation.” Does that mean Kosice’s art falls into the latter category, his and other Latin American artists, since Calder’s name tends to be more familiar to fans of (western) modern art? Not at all. I think many of us experience the varying struggle of “what is art?”/”is that art?” when confronted with images or objects that challenge notions of what art, and “fine” art, is meant to look like. This gap the LA Times presents—Calder’s modernity on one side, gimmicky “art” on the other—is quite frankly very large, but “Kinesthesia” shows that these artists filled that gap quite successfully.
Work by Jesús Rafael Soto (1923-2005) tricks the eye by appearing to vibrate. For Soto, the individual elements that make up his work are very simple and don’t matter; what does matter is what occurs when they interact. “I am not interested,” he wrote, “in connections between things, but only with their relationships.” (2)
Seeing Doble Transparencia (Double Transparency) was a real treat for me because it was the first Soto I ever studied in depth. One of the first uses of Plexiglas in art, it’s one of those pieces that isn’t really “finished” until you walk around it and realise that it juts out from the wall and is made up of overlapping layers. Here, Soto manages to play around simultaneously with actual movement, perceived movement, and blurring the space between art and viewer. Fiddling with perspective, helping the first layer appear larger than the second even as they converge in the middle and we can’t really tell which layer is which if the Plexiglas wasn’t jutting out above or below, really makes us consider the sum, and not the parts.
But the vibration is really more legible in Carlos Cruz-Diez (b. 1923). Even when looking at them straight on, as I did for the picture of Physichromie 228 below, it looks like the circles and their shadows are shifting in place. It reminds me of the slight distortion that happens when you try and take a picture of your laptop screen with your phone camera.
The Physichromie series emphasises the handmade and the use of non-traditional media, like Plexiglas, cardboard, and PVC inserts; and, for me, it really makes a case for the immersive aesthetic experience over a detached, intellectual observation.
The highlight of the exhibit for me was Kosice’s La Ciudad Hidroespacial (The Hydrospatial City). Representing a mankind who must now live in cities suspended above the ocean, Kosice’s sculptures of plexiglas and lightbulbs likewise hang suspended from the ceiling in a small room. Along the sides of the wall are rectangular installations of light that, in the setting, set the mood of outer space, or of the night sky reflected on water. You’re allowed to walk through them, like wading through water, but I mainly hugged the edges of the room, as the fragility of these objects are highly emphasised and I didn’t want to chance anything. I could have stayed in that room for hours—it gave me the same sense of wonder I felt when I first stepped into Henri Matisse’s The Swimming Pool at MoMA in New York City.
“Kinesthesia: Latin American Kinetic Art, 1954-1969” runs until 15th January 2018; I highly recommend it!
(1) Gyula Kosice, “The Founding of Madí,” in Patrick Frank, ed., Readings in Latin American Modern Art, New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2004, 144-145. For a quick overview on Maldonado, Madí, and Concrete-Invention, see this page.
(2) Jesús Rafael Soto, “Artist’s Statement,” in Readings in Latin American Modern Art, 171.
Featured Image: Carlos Cruz-Diez, Chromosaturation, 1965/2017.