Critics’ Picks

François Morellet, Fil avec mouvement ondulatoire (Wave motion thread), 1965, thread, plumb, engine, and light, dimensions variable.

New York

“1950s–1960s Kinetic Abstraction”

Andrea Rosen Gallery
525 West 24th Street
June 27–August 24

At a distance, Hartmut Böhm’s HF 10, 1965, would pass for an oil painting were it not for the power cord emerging from its frame. The cord is twisted and yellowed, with an on/off switch typical to lamps bought at swap meets, and it tethers the work to that moment in the late 1950s and early 1960s when Kinetic Abstraction gained traction as an international (albeit mostly European) art movement. Like Op art, the movement was briefly a media darling and is now deserving of critical reappraisal, the groundwork for which may be this commendable exhibition. Organized in consultation with German collector Erika Hoffmann, “Kinetic Abstraction” runs off a charged irrationalism that Hoffmann contrasts with “the grand, but hermetic, even authoritarian statements of American Minimalists.” Indeed, rather than a series of statements, the exhibition is a string of verbs: Jesús Rafaël Soto’s Curvas immateriales blancas y grises (Immaterial White and Gray Curves), 1965, ripples; Jean Tinguely’s Maschinenbild Haus Lange (Machine Picture for House Lange), 1960, twirls; Gianni Colombo’s Strutturazione pulsante (Structuring Pulse), 1959, shudders. These erratic actions frustrate all attempts to identify a pattern amid their clicks and buzz. The initial confusion and vertigo they impart, however, yields to something more contemplative, more akin, in fact, to the experience of a painting. François Morellet’s Fil avec mouvement ondulatoire (Wave motion thread), 1965, testifies to how Kinetic Abstraction captures the aesthetic dimension of the whirring technologies introduced into everyday life during the postwar period. A Fred Sandback string piece gone beserk, its single thread oscillates rapidly, like a radio signal, a frequency, an electrical pulse. It is the signature of a world propelled by currents and transmissions, one in which it is increasingly inconceivable to pull the plug.