Kinetic, The Kaneko’s four-month exhibit extraordinaire about the art and technology of movement, is winding down to its last remaining week as it runs through Oct. 14. Make your own move to see it before it passes by and you miss seeing one of the most compelling visual art exhibitions of the year.
The exhibit features nine artists in total–two from Omaha–but the main component is the considerable assemblage of work by artist and sculptor John Buck. This is the largest exhibit of his work ever assembled, a world-class presentation.
Three main galleries are all devoted to Buck’s woodblock prints, wall-hung relief/dioramas and 13 huge, complex mechanical installations. Buck was born in Ames, Iowa but lives now with his wife, artist Deborah Butterfield, in Montana.
Events at the Kaneko are free. You can expect to be greeted by a pleasant and friendly face at the front desk, and for this show, an initially bothersome creaking noise coming from high overhead.
Looking up, you’ll come to realize this groan/squeak is a fittingly funny effect of the motion of sculptor Larry Sasso’s enormous “Channel Swimmer,” his prodigious, mechanical, if somewhat arthritic, wire sculpture/mobile.
Surrounded by “Yellow Perch” of golden brass plated steel wire, the persistent swimmer strokes his way nowhere, seemingly held back by his suit, bowtie and his 8 to 5 job, kicking up an invisible wake in a desperate attempt to get on with real life. Sasso is one of two Omaha artists with work in the show.
Proceeding to the main gallery section, you first come to Buck’s spinning globe, “Omnibus” 2004, its wooden drive gear clacking quietly, introducing the viewer to Buck’s extensive use of symbols both recognizable and mysterious.
The new visitor should note: if the globe is not spinning, look for a small disk on the floor attached by wire to the sculpture. If this foot switch is available, step on it to get the sculpture started.
You might as well get used to this, as several of Buck’s sculptures require activation. Some of the more fragile sculptures are only available to operate during organized tours. Please heed the signage.
On your right are two of Deborah Butterfield’s horse sculptures, “Isabelle” (2001), and “Hawaii”, 2001. Although these are not actively (or passively) moving pieces, the sinuousness of the cast bronze “driftwood” implies the musculature and bridled power of the majestic species, even in repose.
The definition of kinetic art has over the years been expanded to include impressions and suggestions of movement, so Butterfield’s pieces fit well within the show. Plus, married to John Buck, she can be in the show if she wants.
Moving left to enter the large, main space, the Bow Truss Gallery, it is easy to miss the two woodblock prints on the wall, a fine introduction to Buck’s expertise in this medium. Like a child’s first visit to the carnival, the spectacle of the intricate and spinning carved wood sculptures is curious and inviting. His multicolored prints are sprinkled throughout the other two gallery spaces devoted to his work.
“Tableaux vivants” is the best way to describe these maquettes. Carved of jelutong wood, the same tree from which we get latex, these are conceived, created and engineered all by the artist himself without blueprints.
A reportedly voracious reader, Buck’s method is to take a serious philosophical or cultural concept, or a politically charged or historical interaction or event, and turn it into a (sometimes) funny and usually poignant, animated machine that does nothing more than turn, rotate, spin and rock.
Almost all of Buck’s choreography, however, is pointless other than for presentation. Unlike Rube Goldberg’s contraptions, Buck’s machines do not have a final pragmatic result. Instead, the movements are simple animation, changing relationships, opening and closing doors, to bring the sculpture alive, waving at you to get your attention and amusement.
They also creak, squeal or clack. Most of Buck’s kinetic sculptures make noise; a deliberate, folksy and unassuming accompaniment that helps make these looming and busy wooden constructs curious and accessible.
The repetitious and proud groan of a belt going around a pulley, the clack of wood on wood, each works together in a style resembling both a cartoon and ballet to ease any harsh social or political commentary. It is difficult not to smile when viewing these in action.
The first floor then is devoted primarily to Buck. Moving upstairs, the first gallery features “Bloomen Lumen” by the group Foldhaus. The San Franciscan designers and engineers produce moving “botanical” sculptures operated by motion detectors.
The “flowers” have been a regular installation for years at Burning Man festivals and various concerts and events worldwide. Although they are beginning to show some wear, these Audrey-esque blooms are still surprising and fun.
The Foldhaus installation is joined by two George Rickey sculptures and a Mark di Suvero piece. Rickey preferred the materials and structure take a back seat to the art of the motion. He works with simple shapes and materials that were only utilitarian to him.
With this in mind, the placement of these two wind-driven sculptures makes little sense. They are diminished by the Bloomen Lumen installation and by the more important lack of wind.
After its first favorable impression, Kinetic can seem a little underwhelming as It lacks many examples by the masters such Calder or Tinguely. The one exception being the two pieces by George Rickey.
There is no representation by more current innovators like Thor Jansen, or Pekka and Teija Isorattya or Anthony Howe. In addition, much of what is presented, save for John Buck, is meant to be outside, where the wind driven machines can find purchase, where the monumental can be experienced.
That said there are several smaller pieces in a second-floor gallery, sharing space with an impressive UNO Biomechanics exhibit. Since the Biomechanics extension is educational, it is necessary and rewarding to watch the videos (or join an organized tour) to get the full effect.
In addition, in the center of the room you will find two of Tom Sitzman’s entries. Sitzman, an Omaha sculptor, has made two self-leveling “Covfefe” for those still wondering what that actually is. These large steel hoops, looking like some sort of physical therapy contraptions, are an interactive statement of balance witnessed by a simple push.
Lastly, we see a tabletop version of a 60-foot wind-driven segmented serpentine tower, “Dance with the Wind,” by Ralfanso Gschwend, aka Ralfanso. A Swiss sculptor, Ralfanso is one of the most active and prolific kinetic sculptors living today.
He is the first and still-serving President of the Kinetic Art Organization, an international society founded to preserve and promote kinetic art. He has two pieces in the show, the other is “Ex,” a wind driven, seven-foot-tall, stainless steel exclamation point. Impressive in their engineering, it was disappointing to see these impotently stuck in a room.
Because of the fragile nature of many of the sculptures and displays, some are only available for “participation” or function during organized and supervised tours. This is an unfortunate, but necessary, and makes some of the displays a little inaccessible and therefore somewhat less interesting.
The entire Kinetic extravaganza started back in early June, and you can still enjoy the main exhibit. The show runs through October 14th. Tours are Tuesdays, from 5:30PM to 6:30 PM, Fridays from 12PM -1 PM, and Saturdays 11 am-12 PM, and 3PM-4PM. For more show details go to thekaneko.org.