ACTION <-> REACTION – 100 YEARS OF KINETIC ART at the Kunsthal in Rotterdam

I always think there is something very 1960s about kinetic art, it’s all very psychedelic – the sort of thing you’d experience on an LSD trip, or so they tell me. However, the dominant, most spectacular pieces on show in this very thorough and comprehensive exhibition are fairly modern, with lots of neon tubes and digitally controlled three dimensional objects.

But there is nothing new about kinetic art, op art or whatever else you care to call it. Marcel Duchamp was doing stuff nearly one hundred years ago, Alexander Calder’s mobiles were in every interior décor magazine in the fifties and Victor Vasarely prints or posters adorned High Street picture shops and the walls of student digs throughout the sixties and seventies. Bridget Riley was one of the mainstays and innovators of Swinging London.

That’s the thing about kinetic art, you don’t need to know anything about art to appreciate or enjoy it – as the dozens of kids running round this exhibition having fun will happily testify. There were lots of fans blowing things and lots and lots of mirrors, some providing fairground-like distortions, others sending you optically into a bottomless pit. There were darkened rooms with ever-changing kaleidoscopic images and there was a series of three plain, brightly lit rooms which only varied in the colour of the lighting.

It’s all very clever – but art and cleverness are not synonymous. In fact the two are usually mutually exclusive. There is something a bit nerdy about this kinetic art in all its forms and guises. It’s all too intellectual, too mechanical and precise, too many calculations and slide rules involved and too much meticulous repetition in its execution. It always strikes me as superficial, lacking soul and insight which, to most people, are prerequisites for art.

But if you just look at the exhibits as clever, fun things then you won’t be disappointed and you’ll really enjoy them. They are clever and they are exquisitely made and they will impress you – but not in the same way that, say, David Hockney or Anslem Kiefer will. These pieces won’t give you any great insights into the human condition or move you. They have no hidden depth and they won’t make you feel anything – except giddy perhaps.    Michael Hasted    23rd October 2018