Wetterling Gallery is pleased to present Melodic Motion, an exhibition dedicated to juxtaposing the significant intellectual and artistic interactions between François Morellet (1926-2016), Takis (1925-2019), Enrico Castellani (1930-2017), George Rickey (1907-2002), Alberto Biasi (b.1937), and Jean Tinguely (1925-1991).
Under the wide umbrella of Kinetic Art and Post-war Avant-garde, the current presentation puts forward the decades devoted by these artists to deconstructing traditional artmaking, including through motion in sculpture; the kinetic implication of light and the shifting of a person’s gaze; producing works using simple geometric forms such as lines, and circles. Each of these remarkable, convention-breaking artists delivered unique contributions and propositions. Together, the notable works on view create a dialogue through shared features around movement and perception.
As a pioneer of geometric abstraction and a founding member of GRAV (Visual Art Research Group), the French painter, sculptor, and installation artist François Morellet sought to challenge conventional narratives of artistic construction. Following a trip to Brazil in 1950 – where Morellet discovered Concrete Art and the work of Max Bill – he decisively shifted from figuration to abstraction. He began exploring the creative potential of kinetic and pre-established systems, while challenging the viewer’s understanding of perception, and of the physical picture plane. By applying mathematical constraints to simple lines and geometric shapes, he developed a radical type of geometrical abstraction.
At the same time, the renowned Greek kinetic artist Takis (né Panagiotis Vassilakis) was captivated by the "iron jungle" of the Paris train stations in the mid 1950s, which inspired his iconic, antennae-like series of sculptures titled Signals. The mesmerizing Signals, composed of slim iron rods and lights or other found objects, produce movement and sound in response to even the slightest vibration within their environment. They are a testament to Takis's commitment to infusing motion into all of his works, and representative of his interest in exploring elements of physics, nature, and technology.
Also featured is the work of American sculptor George Rickey, who committed over five decades to the creation of poetic and precisely calibrated sculptures that he referred to as “useless machines.” Working exclusively in stainless steel, Rickey’s sculptures mimic shapes from nature, including repeatedly trees, exploring the duality of nature versus machine. Rewarding a viewer’s patience, they reveal their true nature over the course of time.
As an Italian pendant, works by Alberto Biasi and Enrico Castellani are on display. The two first exhibited together in 1960 at galleria Azimut in Milan, which had been created by Castellani and Piero Manzoni the previous year. This period was one of innovation and experimentation for Biasi, who co-founded the groundbreaking Italian art collective Gruppo N in 1959, and started his first important series titled Trame, where frames that filter light are employed to form constellation-like effects. He later developed his Oggetti Ottico-Dinamici, works composed of narrow strips of PVC that radiate from a central point, twisting and turning equidistantly towards a wooden frame of geometric form. The relational perception to the viewer is central, as they become an active participant in creating the artwork.
Enrico Castellani is a key figure of the European post-war avant-garde, associated with Group Zero and best known for his “paintings of light”. Using shaped canvases, in which the canvas was mounted on nail heads, Castellani experimented with negative and positive spaces, and modulations of light. Furthermore, he rejected the traditional separation between artistic practices, such as sculpture, paintings, or architecture.
The Swiss artist Jean Tinguely was a pioneer of kinetic sculpture, who extended the Dada tradition through his emblematic sculptural machines (known as Métamatics). His artistic endeavors were driven by a lifelong fascination with machines - focusing on understanding their mechanisms, movements, noises, and their intrinsic poetry. While putting forward the beauty of machines and the notion of spectator participation, Tinguely’s oeuvre is also an ironic social commentary on industrial overproduction.
Melodic Motion features important works by each of these six artists.
Amongst them, a key piece is François Morellet’s 16 lampes allumage avec 4 rythmes superposés (1963) — one of the artist’s first examples of his application of systems highlighted by artificial light, which he had started in the 1950s. A number of assemblage-works from the Signals series by Takis are paired with a historical work from 1966, Musical, in which an electromagnet pulls a heavy steel needle sharply against a cord, and resulting vibrations are directed to speakers via an amplifier. Jean Tinguely’s Bascule (1968), stands out through its monochrome black palette, an evolution from his earlier, colorful, found-object assemblages; its limited elements echo Takis’s and George Rickey’s minimalist nature. Rickey’s Quadrilateral Theme Variation III invites the viewer to partake in a moment of stillness. As he has evocatively described: I did not want merely to set a static art in motion, nor did I want to describe the dynamic world around me with a series of moving images. I wanted the whole range of movements themselves performing in a world of their own. Biasi is represented through wall-hung works from the Trames series, and the subsequent Rilievo ottico dinamico – allowing the viewer to understand the subtle developments in the artist’s proposals over the decades. Castellani’s elegant Superficie Bianca (2005) monochrome beautifully exemplifies the explorations of space and light that captivated the artist since the 1960s.
While all these artworks exist individually, they share components of a melodic motion in their intricate and complex mathematical structures. They seek to offer a timeless dialogue surrounding notions of form and motion.
OPENING: THURSDAY, 2 MARCH, 5-8PM