The de Menil Gallery Archive

Ambiguous Mechanics: The Kinetic Sculpture of Arthur Ganson

The de Menil Gallery at Groton School is excited to present the whimsical kinetic sculptures of Boston artist Arthur Ganson in Ambiguous Mechanics: The Kinetic Sculpture of Arthur Ganson. The exhibition will be on display from April 3 to June 4, 2006.
Ganson's creations compel viewers to rethink boundaries between art, engineering, and play. Humorous, fanciful, and meditative, his contraptions include a walking wishbone, waving scraps of paper, an exploding chair that reassembles itself, a machine that bathes itself in grease, and an artichoke petal that strolls like a monk in prayer.
Self-described as a cross between a mechanical engineer and a choreographer, Ganson produces mechanisms that not only spin, whir, click, and glide, but also seem to live and breathe. Heavy steel and hand-welded wire sprockets are imbued with fluid movement and expressive personality. The sense of life is especially potent when the motion is activated by the viewer's own curious hand. Informed by his direct observations of human nature, his inventive intuition, and his creative joy, Ganson builds machines that somehow seem more than mechanized. As one observer has put it, anyone can build a machine that waves, but "Arthur can build a machine that waves good-bye."
In Machine with Wishbone, a chicken wishbone seems to be towing the very mechanism that propels it. A quieter mood is evoked from the measured flapping of petal-like paper scraps in Machine with 11 Scraps of Paper. Margot's Other Cat sends a velvet chair infinitely spinning in space; its weightlessness tried again and again by a menacing cat below.
Ganson's work recalls that of Swiss kinetic sculptor Jean Tinguely, Bauhaus painter Paul Klee, and the Dada and Surrealist movements, yet the viewer need not spend too much time with art theory and history. "I feel strongly that the pieces need to stand on their own," says Ganson. "I am not interested in intellectual sculpture that needs to be explained to be understood."
In a Smithsonian Magazine article on Ganson, author David Sims describes the sculptor's work as "retrotechnology with a nineteenth century quality...No lasers, no subminiaturized computer wizardry. What you see is what you get." Sims goes on to explain: "People generally get what they see because there are so many different points of entry, and end result of the playful Ganson mind...Kids love Machine with Wishbone because its funny, odd and ingenious. Many adults, on the other hand, see pathos and tragedy as the enslaved little bone drags the clanking contraption behind it."
With his studio in Somerville, Massachusetts, Ganson is an artist-in-residence at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where many of his machines can be seen in his ongoing exhibition, Gestural Engineering. His interest in kinetic sculpture goes back twenty years. In that time he has collaborated with the Studebaker Movement Theater, and had solo exhibitions at Harvard's Carpenter Center, the DeCordova Museum, and the Ricco/Maresca Gallery in New York. Ganson also invented the popular children's constructive toy called Tubers and Zots.