Duchamp’s Motor, Kapoor Mirror, Fog Art in Paris: Review

The first thing you see is a fog sculpture.

Fed by 300 mist makers, it hovers over the fountain outside the Grand Palais in Paris. Its creator, Fujiko Nakaya, is one of the 143 artists whose works are on view in “Dynamo: A Century of Light and Motion in Art 1913-2013.”

This must be the biggest exhibition ever organized at the Grand Palais: Except for the space beneath the glass-and-steel dome, every gallery, 3,700 square meters (39,826 feet) in all, has been opened for the show.

Some of the artists, such as Alexander Calder, Julio Le Parc and Victor Vasarely, are well known. Many are not. The result is a fascinating if confusing mix of blinding flashes, moving mirrors and weird machines.

The titles of the 16 sections -- Vision/Permutation, Vision/Immersion, Space/Abyss etc. -- are of no great help nor do they occur in any chronological order.

On the contrary: The organizers seem to have been guided by the biblical principle “The first shall be the last, and the last shall be the first.”

If their aim is to bewilder rather than enlighten us, they have succeeded.

Kinetic art started around World War I. A replica of one of its earliest specimens is in the show -- an electric-driven oscillating wire construction by the Russian sculptor Naum Gabo.

Motorized Sculpture

Another pioneer was Marcel Duchamp, who used an electric motor for his “Rotative Plaques Verre” (Rotary Glass Plates). He also coined the term “mobile” for Calder’s moving sculptures.

At first, hanging sculptures were driven by a motor. Later, they were suspended by thin wires and light enough to respond to the slightest movement of air. Calder called them “four-dimensional drawings.”

Le Parc invented wonderful devices to disorient the viewer. Aside from several works at the Grand Palais, he is feted in a huge one-man show at the Palais de Tokyo (through May 13).

Without the help of the staff, I wouldn’t have found the show’s entrance hidden behind a labyrinth of mirrors.

Probably the wittiest kinetic artist was the Swiss Jean Tinguely, whose mad machines satirize our obsession with technology; some were even self-destructive.

Two of his motor-driven sculptures in the show are titled “Meta-Malevich” -- an ambivalent homage to the Russian painter.

Vasarely, Bridget Riley and other Op-artists were more interested in creating optical illusions. Their canvases seem to vibrate, pulsate and flicker.

Among the most recent works, you find Swiss-born John Armleder’s neon installations, German Carsten Holler’s walls of flickering light bulbs accompanied by clicking sounds and Anish Kapoor’s distorting “Islamic Mirror,” possibly a veiled criticism of the Muslim worldview.

“Dynamo” is a must for fans of abstract art as well as for technofreaks.

“Dynamo: A Century of Light and Motion in Art 1913-2013,” supported by Orange, Philips, Macif, Sonepar and NRA Lighting, runs through July 22. Information: http://www.grandpalais.fr.

(Jorg von Uthmann is a critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)

Muse highlights include Manuela Hoelterhoff on opera and Elin McCoy on wine.

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