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The machine
as seen at the end of the mechanical age
Karl Gunnar Pontus Hultén
The Museum Of Modern Art New York, 1968
pages 218

Pontus Hulten was a museum director and pioneering figure for the reinvention of the modern art museum. He lead Centre Pompidou and also inspired LA MOCA, among others.

beside every artwork is a symbol that refers to the group it is asigned to, being:


"The machine as seen at the end of the mechanical age" is a catalogue that accompanied a seminal exhibition at The Museum of Modern Art, New York in 1968.
René d'Harnoncourt, then director of the MoMA had the idea for an exhibition of kinetic art but this idea was soon extended to new dimensions to an overview of the history of machines within an artistic context. Each of them is displayed on a single page with extensive black and white imagery.

Starting of with earliest depictions of machines by Dürer, da Vinci and contemporaries, similar to technical sketches of early flying aparatus', automata and wind powered carriages.

It then focusses on the development of the camera by examples from Etienne Jules Marey and the Lumiere brothers, Eadweard Muybridge, Théodore Maurisset, including many esoteric and unseen examples from other contemporaries.

It then proceeds to "Speed", trains and Marinetti and the Futurists, Duchamps (including an interesting text about the "great glass" or "the bride stripped bare" and its alchemical background)
Pages and pages of Picabia commented.

Kinetic art, optics and cinema: Duchamps again, Naum Gabo, Vladimir Tatlin, Raoul Hausmann, George Grosz, Kurt Schwitters, Hannah Höch, Max Ernst, Paul Klee, El Lissitzky Liubov Popova, Alexandre Vesnin, Oskar Schlemmer, Constructivists.

Cars: Ettore Bugatti, Buckminster Fuller,
Alexander Calder, Vladimir Tatlin, Man Ray,

Rube goldberg with cartoons of tooth-pulling machine.

Charles Chaplin, Man Ray, Alberto Giacometti with "the captured hand"

Amazing kinetic machines that draw randomly by Bruno Munari, Jean Tinguely,

After that depictions of cars as blow-up versions (Rauschenberg) or car wreck scuptures by Cesar Baldaccini.

Interesting: Robert Beer's kinetic plastic sheet continiously changing its shape by different, indiscernible mechanisms.
Thomas Shannon's interactive, kinetic sculpture involving a live plant.

Hans Haacke condensation sculpture.

Wen-Ying Tsai's "cybernetic" sculpture projecting onto ocillating rods.

Essentially a very good historical overview over machine/kinetic/cybernetic art - not only focussing on a few indivduals but also upon some unknown and "forgotten" ones.

Hans Ulrich Obrist interviews Hultén in 1997:
PH: MoMA had asked me to put together an exhibition on kinetic art. I told Alfred Barr that the subject was too vast, and instead proposed a more critical and thematic exhibit on the machine. The machine was central to much of the art of the '60s, and at the same time, it was obvious that the mechanical age was coming to an end, that the world was about to enter a new phase. My exhibition began with Leonardo da Vinci's sketches of flying machines and ended with pieces by Nam June Paik and Tinguely. It included over 200 sculptures, constructions, paintings, and collages. We also put together a film program. Tinguely was really in love with machines, with mechanisms of any kind. He had his breakthrough on 17 March 1960 with Hommage a New York - a self-destroying artwork. Richard Huelsenbeck, Duchamp, and myself had written for the catalogue at the time and Tinguely wanted to bring his friends Yves Klein and Raymond Hains with him to New York in 1960, but somehow it never happened.

HUO: Your machine show could be thought of as a requiem to L'Homme-machine, the famous book by the eighteenth-century philosopher La Mettrie about the machine age.

PH: Yes - as its culmination. It was also the height of [MoMA's] golden age, a period when Alfred Barr was there and Rene d'Harnoncourt was director of the museum.

HUO: Why was it so wonderful?

PH: They were both great men. For one thing, no one ever mentioned the word "budget." Today it's the first word you hear. There were all kinds of possibilities. When, at the eleventh hour, we had to get one of Buckminster Fuller's Dymaxion cars from Texas, they said "Boy, that costs a lot of money" but we got it. This was the last great exhibition of that period at MoMA. Rene d'Harnoncourt died in an accident shortly before the machine show opened, and Alfred Barr had retired the year before.

Complete interview in ArtForum, April 1997,;col1

last update: 9/25/02019 13:34

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