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Book review

Overview of Publications for the Exhibition The Other Trans-Atlantic

The selection was prepared by Ilmira Bolotyan, Valery Ledenev, Maryana Karysheva, and Maria Shmatko.


The Other Transatlantic: Kinetic and Op Art In Central And Eastern Europe And Latin America

Warsaw: Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw, 2017. - 356 pp.

The publication was prepared by the Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw for The Other Transatlantic exhibition that opened in the Polish capital before it travelled to Moscow. It is not a catalogue for a project, but rather an illustrated reader on history of kinetic and op art on both sides of the Atlantic between the early 1940s and the first half of the 1970s.

Kinetic and op art according to Dieter Roelstraete and Abigail Winograd, who together with Marta Dziewańska and Pavel Nowozický co-curated the exhibition’s Polish edition, was unfairly overlooked and marginalized within "big" art history in favor of "high" modernism. Critics up until 1960s did not pay much attention to these movements, finding works by its key representatives nothing more than "novelties", while a renowned publication Art Since 1990: Modernism, Antimodernism, Postmodernism mentions mainly Western-European representatives of the movement.

However, as the authors expand on it in the publication’s introductory article, kinetic and op art turned into one of the few truly international movements in post-war art history, uniting artists living in different countries and working in different socio-cultural contexts. Those artists rethought relationships between viewer and artwork, and "reassembled" the language of contemporary art by means of avant-garde and contemporary science, in an attempt to make this language more accessible, driving from universal laws of physics, mathematics, and human perception.

Certain articles included in the publication talk about the history of kinetic and op art in Latin America (with a particular focus on Argentina, Brazil and Venezuela), Eastern Europe (Poland and Czechoslovakia), and the New Tendencies international art movement. An article by Sasha Obukhova, Garage Archive and Library curator, explores the history of the Dvizhenie (Movement) art group and kinetic art in the USSR. Abigail Winograd and Dusan Barok have compiled a detailed account of events related to the history of the movement between 1941 and 1973. The publication’s appendix features key articles and manifestoes by artists and researchers in the field of kinetic and op art. V.L.

Visionary Structures. From Johansons to Johansons

Riga: The Latvian Centre for Contemporary Art, 2015. – 262 pp.

The publication is a catalogue of an eponymous exhibition held in 2005 at the BOZAR Centre For Fine Arts, Brussels co-organized with the Latvian National Museum of Art and the Latvian Centre for Contemporary Art. The exhibition traced one of the trajectories in the history of Latvian art, going from constructivism to kinetic art and further—to art based on new technologies. The show brought together works by artists from three different generations, who, according to the exhibition curators, remained faithful to similar ideas and movements in art history.
In the 1920s Karl Ioganson and Gustav Klutsis, artists of Latvian origin who belonged to a Moscow group of constructivists, came up with a new means for visualizing dynamics of contemporary life. Their heritage was referenced throughout the 1970s: a number of artists, including Latvians Valdis Celms, Janis Krievs, and Arturs Rinkis, were engaged in scientific aesthetics and possibilities for finding new forms delivered by such. They did not only work as artists but also as urban and landscape designers, interior architects, and space technology designers (Janis Krievs developed electronic dynamical systems for domestic lighting).

Contemporary science was the main focus for the youngest generation of artists present at the exhibition. The language of computer technologies, unlike that of kinetic aesthetics, doesn’t make a claim for universalism, yet allows the building of alternative micro-realities, a ‘post-human’ world. The latter, as demonstrated in the works of Gints Gabrans and Voldemars Johansons, is comprised of particles, biological matter, genetic chains, and technological algorithms.

In the constructions of Karl Ioganson and Gustav Klutsis from the 1920s we see utopia as a fruit of political and revolutionary fantasies, where an artist’s place is taken by engineers and designers, yet visual thinking of the 1970s still refers to "chilled"—in the words of the exhibition curator Ieva Astahovska—socialist ideals. The kinetic objects of Valdis Celms, Janis Krievs, and Arturs Rinkis, writes Astahovska, ooze cybernetic optimism and poetic cosmic escapism. These artists found ways to use a state-imposed imperative of "technological aesthetics" for their individual artistic search, filling it with a certain freedom of form and content.

Astkhovksa cites Andrey Kharitonov, a researcher who found a precise way to describe the essence of Latvian kinetic art: "Their objects are gifts to the Soviet people from the future galactic society, made according to a principle of sci-tech rationality". Some of these "gifts" by Valdis Celms, Janis Krievs, and Arturs Rinkis can be found at The Other Trans-Atlantic exhibition at Garage this spring. I.B.


A Little-Known Story about a Movement, a Magazine and the Computer’s Arrival in Art. New Tendencies and Bit International, 1961–1973

Karlsruhe: ZKM | Center for Arts and Media Karlsruhe, 2011. – 576 pp.

A weighty tome on New Tendencies— the international art movement that emerged in socialist Yugoslavia and developed on ideas introduced by kinetic and op art, alongside rapidly growing computer art—was released for an exhibition on history of the movement. The project was organized in 2007–2009 in Austria and Germany. Its Austrian edition opened in 2007 in Linz and was curated by Darko Fritz. In 2008, he was joined by Peter Weibel, Maria Gattin, and Margit Rosen, who also acted as the publication’s editor.

The prolific study comprises information on the history of the New Tendencies, that began with Almir Mavignier, a Brazilian artist who lived in Germany, and Croatian art critic Matko Mestrovic meeting in Zagreb in 1961. They joined forces to organize an exhibition of new computer art in the Zagreb Museum of Contemporary Art, headed by Bozo Bek who was supportive of their ideas. After Zagreb, exhibitions were organized in Italy, Germany, and France, so by 1968 the movement grew to be international. The book presents a detailed timeline of exhibitions, symposiums, and publications by New Tendencies and the history of Bit International magazine, that was published by members of the movement.

Many representatives of New Tendencies classified their work as research, not only on the methodological level, but also in terms of reorganization of artistic practice, preferring collective making to individual. Movement members were promoting industrial production and multiplication of works, the new art containing to them an ideal of modern democratic society. Their discussions that happened in the years between 1968 and 1973 are documented in this book, showing a variety of themes and positions, that are still relevant to digital art to the present day. M.K.


documenta III. Malerei, Skulptur

Koln: Verlag M. DuMont Shauberg, 1964. - 416 pp.

4. documenta. Katalog 1

Kassel: Verlag Druck + Verlag GmbH Kassel, 1968. - 326 pp.

In 1964 visitors to documenta 3 in Kassel had a chance to see kinetic art at the "Light and Movement" (Licht und Bewegung) section of the exhibition. Works that went into it were personally selected by documenta founder Arnold Bode (other sections of the exhibition were prepared by a committee of fourteen people, apart from Bode himself). His choice was made in favor of predominantly Western-European artists, including Heinz Mack, Otto Piene, Guenther Uecker, Nicolas Schöffer and members of French artist group GRAV (Groupe de recherche d’art vusel)—François Morellet and Julio Le Parc — Jesús Rafael Soto (his works are shown at Garage), and others. However, a catalogue introduction article written by Werner Haftmann, member of selection committee and adviser on theoretical matters at documenta 3, does not mention kinetic art and its representatives. In his definition of a "curatorial statement" for the project, according to which "art is what is made by great artists", Haftmann centers his arguments around representatives of pre- and post-war modernism (from Matisse and Kandinsky to Sam Francis and Antoni Tàpies).

The tradition was supported by documenta 4 in 1968, described as "the youngest documenta in history". Kinetic and op art alongside performance and happening, pop art, and minimalism were relatively well represented. The show included works by Victor Vasarely, Bridget Riley, Gyula Kosice, Zdeněk Sýkora (works by the last two are shown at Garage), also by Dvizhenie (Movement) group, although those were rather unfairly attributed to Lev Nussberg only, who in fact wasn’t the author of works reproduced in the catalogue. The publication doesn’t explain how those objects traveled abroad from the USSR (a rather complicated question for 1960s), but only mentions that works by Soviet artists "cannot be loaned to other exhibitions".

A large text on history of kinetic and op art was written for the catalogue by Werner Spies, who described works of the movements’ representatives from the point of view of then-innovative findings in psychology of perception. "By the term op art, we refer to works appealing to vision in its self-sufficiency. […] Mechanisms lying at the basis of kinetic art are only partially surpassed by mechanisms of op art, yet the two shall not be immediately separated. They are both defining the artistic […] in which the system of looking / interpretation […] is replaced by a system that destroys equilibrium between perception and apperception [immediate perception and comprehension of the seen.—V.L.]". Both catalogues were published in German language. V.L.

Italian ZERO & Avantgarde ‘60s

Milano: Silvana Editoriale, 2011. – 288 pp.

The publication was prepared for an exhibition Zero Group. Contemporary Italian Art of the Second Half of XX century, held in 2011 at the Multimedia Art Museum (Moscow), by its structure resembles more of an almanac. The book, as it says in its introductory article, was intended not to "be opened with a serious theoretical text", so that a reader (and equally a visitor to the exhibition) could "independently sense and identify links between certain artists and their work". It doesn’t imply there were no texts published in the book. History and meaning of works by ZERO group members is revealed through publications by artists themselves: fragments of their letters, articles, and comments on their own work are reproduced inside the book in a great volume.

ZERO was an international art movement, also active in Germany, France, and the Netherlands. Lucio Fontana was one of its most prominent representatives from Italy, his views are declared in manifestoes published in the book. His ideas are developed in the article by Enrico Castellani and Piero Manzoni that appeared in Azimuth magazine in 1960. In "Critical Remarks on Theoretical Input in the Framework of the New Tendency" Manfredo Massironi has coined theoretical principles for social relationships in culture, metaphorically reflected in his work Unstable Perception. The book also features a text on Lucio Fontana by Nanda Vigo, which is written more in a form of a memoir rather than a critical account of the artist’s work.

Op art of Alberto Biasi, geometrism of Agostino Bonalumi, constructions of Davide Boriani, reminiscent of works by the Dvizhenie group, machines of Bruno Munari, white surfaces of Paolo Scheggi, reflective objects of Nanda Vigo—page by page we are able to trace the way form and illusion, that it induces, turned into a prominent language in art throughout a certain period of its history.

An article by Werner Mayer introduces a German branch of the famous movement (Heinz Mack, Otto Piene, and others). It is published in a catalogue for the exhibition The Paths of German Art from 1949 to the Present held in 2014 at Moscow Museum of Modern Art. M.S.

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