As Time Goes By

 In Culture, Feature

The Kemper Art Museums “Moving Parts” exhibit explores time, space and duration.


“TIME AND MOTION have played a central role in art and in the exhibit history of artistic invention since the early 20th century, as artists explored notions of relativity that propose space as constantly changing.” So writes Meredith Malone, curator of “Moving Parts: Time and Motion in Contemporary Art,” the exhibit currently showing at the Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum at Washington University. The exhibit takes off in the 1960s, which, as Malone points out, was a period “marked by great scientific and technological inventions,” like space travel, television and the computer, for starters.

Shake It Up Even the modern 1958 plastic version of the hula hoop, though existing in other forms for thousands of years, explored time and motion—except nobody realized that it was kinetic art. There are no hula hoops on display in “Time and Motion,” but rather a rich collection of works from a stable of artists that foster contemplation of the many different ways a single moment in time might be viewed and how surroundings or time affect an object.

The artists on display include William Anastasi, Robert Breer, Moyra Davey, Spencer Finch, Man Ray, Rivane Neuenschwander, Dieter Roth and many others, with the artworks divided into three thematic sections: “Actual and Optical Movement,” “Process and Performance” and “Arrested Time and Sequence.” Overall, the exhibits impart the notion that we really don’t consider the myriad influences that surround our experiences on a moment-to-moment basis, or over time.

Slow Motion Consider Robert Breer’s “Float,”(1972) a circular ottoman-like object that moves ever so subtly—like a giant slow-motion Roomba that glides slowly from point A to point B. You don’t realize it’s moving until you look back and see it has shifted a fraction of an inch, and then another, until it bumps something and reverses direction. It’s kinetic art but not flamboyant, which could be normally said of kinetic art. Instead, it’s minimal, meant to make you aware of the environment you’re standing in.

Next to Breer’s work is Howard Jones’ “Solo Two,” (1966) featuring flashing marquee lights with a control board that can be toggled to shift the lights into different patterns. Anything but subtle, Jones is more direct in how we affect our surroundings. Flip the switch and your environment changes, like walking into a dark room and turning on the light.

Death by Chocolate The “Process and Performance” section of the exhibit challenges the notion of artwork as stable. Dieter Roth’s “Chocolate Gnome,” (1969) is simply a garden gnome encased in a block of chocolate. But over time, the chocolate has receded and now reveals the pointed cap of the gnome. It is changing slowly, as will everything, perceived or not.

In contrast but complimentary is Arman’s “Paganini’s Soul,” (1979), the charred and smashed remains of a violin encased in resin. Here, Arman is making a statement about the bourgeois notion of art and culture, which for all the superiority it affects, is still ultimately subject to the forces of decomposition, either physically or esoterically. Similarly his “Poubelle,” (1964), a picture box filled with trash believed to come from a gallery in Cologne, Germany. But every time the artwork is moved, its individual components shift, so it’s never exactly the same from exhibition to exhibition.

Time Machine As the visitor moves to the “Arrested Time and Sequence” section, the art shifts more toward photography, from Edward Ruscha’s “Parking Lots,” (1999) where the artist took aerial pictures of empty LA parking lots, revealing striking geometric patterns of painted stripes denoting parking spaces (with only the oil spots left behind to show how they change over time), to Moyra Davey’s eight moody photographs taken in her apartment in 2003.

But surely the pièce de résistance of the exhibit is Barbara Probst’s “Exposure #106: Broome and Crosby Streets, 04.17.13, 2:29 p.m. 2013,” which captures a single moment—inside an apartment, looking through the window to the street below, and on the street itself—from 12 cameras that took pictures simultaneously from different angles. Each photo, depending on its viewpoint, is a world unto itself, yet they are of the exact same instant. Such is every twinkling of our lives, the exhibit tells us. You need only wait a tick, or view it from a different angle, to see it change.

“Moving Parts: Time and Motion in Contemporary Art” continues at the Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum through Aug. 24.



Hans Haacke, •À_Grass Cube•À_ (1967)

Photo courtesy of the artist and Paula Cooper Gallery, New York.


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