Particle physics art

Tim Prentice: Changing the Movement of Kinetic Art

The task of the kinetic artist is not simply to make art move, but to move all who see it. The premise is the motion for effect; the desired result is poetry in motion.

This is what Tim Prentice, 91-year-old American artist and architect, has devoted his career to. He is currently organizing a major two-part exhibition at the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum, Connecticut, his first solo exhibition since 1999. What does he think? “I’m happy, but I’d be happier if they gave me a show when I wasn’t so decrepit,” he jokes.

For the past half-century, Prentice has lived near Cornwall in northwest Connecticut. It’s a town of 1,500 people, half of whom, according to the artist, are “weekend workers, part-time summer workers, or recovering New Yorkers.”

Top and above: exterior and interior of Tim Prentice’s 18th century studio in Cornwall, Connecticut. Photography: Tim Prentice

“I am quite isolated, which is an advantage in the current situation. I commute on the lawn, so I’ve been working from home for 45 years, ”he explains on the phone from his workshop, a former farm founded in 1790 by an “ice man”, who sold his frozen products to neighbors. Farmers. His studio is in the former ‘icehouse’ and he uses an adjacent hay barn to display work, but the artist’s main gallery is outside. “The place is full of all kinds of kinetic sculptures, hanging from the trees and in the meadows.”

In this part of the world, kinetic art is well established. The title of Prentice’s Aldrich show is “After the Mobile”, a direct nod to Alexander Calder, a name practically synonymous with “mobile”. Calder was a former Connecticut resident who, in the 1930s, adopted the term after Marcel Duchamp urged him to put a name to his strange, moving, wind-blown constructions. “Kinetic sculpture is a more fanciful term for mobiles,” Prentice explains. “Kinetic sculpture is the one I prefer to use, because the mobile is so connected to Calder; it is as if he possessed it entirely.

Tim PrenticeDual banner2020, aluminum, stainless steel, Lexan. Courtesy of Tim Prentice

“It’s the challenge of any artist, to be inspired by someone, and then spend the rest of your life trying to step out of their shadow”

The Fuzz1995, stainless steel, lead. Courtesy of Tim Prentice

‘After the Mobile’ will include 20 interior works, five exterior works and a video portrait of the artist, Workshop visit (2006), directed by Corey Shaff. The indoor exhibition will continue until October 4, 2021, with outdoor works from September 19, 2021 to April 24, 2022.

Prentice first saw Calder’s work as a teenager and was transfixed. “I thought it defied gravity, it never left my head, it was one of those great moments. It wasn’t until a few years later that I realized it had changed my life,” says- he.” There are a lot of people who are so influenced by Calder that you can hardly tell the difference. It’s the challenge of any artist, I suppose, to take inspiration from [someone]then spend the rest of your life trying to step out of their shadow.

“George Rickey was an intellectual, Alexander Calder was an artist”

Prentice met Calder a few times, but it was George Rickey – whom he describes as “the next in the papal succession of kinetic art” – that the artist met. ‘He [Rickey] interested me because he taught all his life and spoke very well about his work. He analyzed and taught what he was doing. Rickey was an intellectual, Calder was an artist.

More importantly for Prentice, Rickey demonstrated that Calder had not explored all avenues of kinetic art; there was still ground to be claimed. “I was like, ‘Oh, damn it, I’ll see if I can add to the vocabulary. Prentice did this with complexity and on the basis of systems theory; physique with charm. While previous kinetic art had focused on how different shapes moved with each other, Prentice asked, “What if those shapes themselves changed?” This resulted in works that moved but always returned to their original shape.

High: Two Oculi, 2008-2020, aluminium, stainless steel. Above: Vine2020. Courtesy of Tim Prentice

Although Prentice has worked in sculpture for half a century, architecture was his first language. ‘My father was an architect so he was my role model, I had no other role model so I entered automatically. I was raised in the modern movement, and [my father] They were the last generation of eclectics, so we weren’t in the same business at all, our points of view were so different. When people said, “Oh, it’s so good that you’re going into your father’s business”, it always made me cringe a little.

Music also played a permanent role in Prentice’s work, a role that took many forms. He made a hobby of creating percussion instruments, went on a publicly funded world folk-singing tour with his wife to introduce American folk music to the world (and bring world folk music back to home), and frequently works on a soundtrack of his favorites. , Bach and Bobby McFerrin. “The sculpture deals with gravity and the music of time, but there are parallels.”

Tim Prentice: ‘After the Mobile’ (installation view), The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum, through October 4, 2021. Courtesy of Apprentice Colbert. Photography: Jason Mandella

Another influential figure was Josef Albers, under whom the artist studied at Yale. Albers led “Color Interaction,” a course Prentice took as an undergrad, only to return seven years later and do the exact same course again. “His whole thing was to limit options. Modernists said decoration was a sin – that’s the generation I was trained in. At first glance, Prentice’s work appears almost entirely devoid of color, even in a work titled Tribute to Albers, but its application is less literal. “I look in the reflections,” he says. “We use a lot of aluminum and stainless steel – you get highlights no matter what space you’re in. If someone walks by with a red shirt, the room turns red. I haven’t abandoned the color, it’s just not the main subject.

In 1999, things came full circle when Prentice – along with architectural partner Lo-Yi Chan – was commissioned to design the Albers Foundation headquarters in Bethany, Connecticut. ‘It was a great honour. I was by far the least known of the people they considered, but I was the only person who had studied with Albers, so I guess I had an advantage.

Tim Prentice: ‘After the Mobile’ (installation view), The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum, through October 4, 2021. Courtesy of Apprentice Colbert. Photography: Jason Mandella

But for Prentice, being an architect was like being a conductor unable to play any of the instruments. In 1970, he decided to play instruments, turning to sculpture as a solution. In architecture, “you work on the design and the drawings, wait to observe the construction, and it can take a year to know if you made the right decisions. Like when you had to take a photo to the pharmacy to have it developed and picked up a week later, it’s infuriating,” he says. “With sculpting, you learn instantly from what you are doing. Now I’m working in spaces that other people have designed, and I’m putting the icing on the cake.

Over the next few decades, Prentice developed a knack for sensing the mood and movement of a room. “If you’re doing a commission for a library or a church, you want the vibe to be tranquil and relaxing and serene, but if you’re doing a piece for an airport, people are wired and worried, ‘Are they running late? Are they on the right plane? And they might just catch a glimpse of him running away. It’s not just the character of the architecture, but what happens. His background in architecture places him in a good position to understand the nuances of space. “I like to think I have chops on both sides,” he says.

Lightweight mat2010, Lexan, aluminum, stainless steel. Courtesy of Tim Prentice

Prentice’s seemingly complex but rational systems of bent, hinged wires and ultra-light metal planes are hypersensitive to moving air. Through undulating and flowing patterns, works such as Lightweight mat (2010) and Double banner (2020) offer an illusion of fragility but are deceptively robust. They give in to the force of the wind but always recover. It is this approach that sets Prentice apart in the history of kinetic art and proves that there is life after Calder’s motive.

But it’s all about play: playing instruments, playing into the legacy of kinetic art (indeed, Calder once made his living designing toys), and the challenge of embracing play.” That’s the thing the hardest,” says Prentice. ‘If someone said to me: “You have all day, you have nothing to do, you can just play”, I would say: “OK, who is it for, where is it going, what is How big is it going to be, how much is it going to cost? I have to make a job out of it. That’s my dilemma.

So, amid all the pre-planning and meticulous vetting, who ultimately gets to play? “It’s a critical question,” Prentice says. “Luck is left to the wind. We just make toys for the wind to play with, and hope the wind is curious enough. §

Prentice’s home and studio in Cornwall, northwest Connecticut. Photography: Tim Prentice

Square Square2016. Courtesy of Tim Prentice