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 motion for effect; the desired result is poetry in motion.

This is what 91-year-old American artist and architect Tim Prentice has dedicated his career to. He is currently staging a major two-part exhibition at the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum, Connecticut, his first solo show 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 run-down,” he jokes.

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

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

“I’m quite isolated, which is an advantage in the current situation. I commute on the lawn, so I have been working at home for 45 years, “he explains over the phone from his workshop, an old farm founded in 1790 by a” man of ice cream “, who sold his frozen products to neighbors Farmers. His studio is in the old ‘Ice House’ and he uses an adjacent hay barn to display his works, but the artist’s main gallery is outside. all kinds of kinetic sculptures, hanging from 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 on his weird, moving, windswept constructions. “Kinetic sculpture is a more sophisticated term for mobiles,” explains Prentice. “Kinetic sculpture is the one I prefer to use, because the mobile is so tied to Calder; it is as if he owns it entirely.

Tim prentice, Double banner, 2020, aluminum, stainless steel, Lexan. Courtesy of Tim Prentice

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

Down, 1995, stainless steel, lead. Courtesy of Tim Prentice

‘After the Mobile’ will present 20 interior works, five exterior works and a video portrait of the artist, Workshop visit (2006), directed by Corey Shaff. The indoor exhibition will run 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 fascinated. “I thought it was gravity defying, it never left my head, it was one of those great moments. I didn’t realize until a few years later that it had changed my life, ”he says. “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 guess, to take inspiration from [someone], then spend the rest of your life trying to get 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 first met. ‘It [Rickey] was interesting to me because he taught all his life and spoke very clearly 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 some land to claim. “I was like, ‘Oh goodie, I’ll see if I can add to the vocabulary. »» Prentice did it 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 these shapes themselves change?” This has resulted in works that move but always return to their original form.

High: Two Oculi, 2008-2020, aluminum, stainless steel. Above: Vine, 2020. 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 model, I had no other model, so I started automatically. I was brought up in the modern movement, and [my father] was the last generation of eclectics, so we weren’t in the same field of work at all – our views were so different. When people said, ‘Oh, it’s so good that you go into your father’s job’, it always made me cringe a little. ‘

Music has also played a permanent role in Prentice’s work, which has taken many forms. He made a hobby of making percussion instruments, went on a state-funded world folk singing tour with his wife to introduce American folk music to the world (and bring folk music from around the world to the house), and frequently works on a soundtrack of his favorites. , Bach and Bobby McFerrin. “Sculpture is about gravity and music is about time, but there are parallels.”

Tim Prentice: ‘After the Mobile’ (installation view), The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum, until October 4, 2021. Courtesy of Prentice 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 undergraduate student, only to come back seven years later and repeat the exact same course. “His whole thing was to limit options. Modernists said decorating 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’m looking in the reflections,” he said. “We use a lot of aluminum and stainless steel – you get reflections from any space you find yourself in. If someone walks by with a red shirt, the room turns red. I haven’t given up on color, it’s just not the main topic.

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

Tim Prentice: ‘After the Mobile’ (installation view), The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum, until October 4, 2021. Courtesy of Prentice 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 he wanted to play instruments, turning to sculpture as a solution. In architecture, “you work on the designs and the drawings, wait to watch the construction, and it can take a year to see if you’ve made the right decisions. Like when you have to take a photo to the drugstore to develop and pick it up a week later – it’s maddening, ”he says. “With sculpture, you instantly learn from what you are doing. Now I work in spaces that others have designed, and I put the icing on the cake. ‘

Over the following decades, Prentice developed a knack for sensing the ambience and movement of a room. “If you’re making an order for a library or a church, you want the vibe to be quiet, relaxing, and serene, but if you’re making a room for an airport, people are wired and worried, ‘Are they late? Are they getting the right plane? And they might just catch a glimpse of him as they run away. It is not just the character of the architecture, but what is happening. His architectural background puts him in a good position to understand the nuances of space. “I like to think I have chops on both sides,” he says.

Lightweight carpet, 2010, Lexan, aluminum, stainless steel. Courtesy of Tim Prentice

Prentice’s seemingly complex but rational systems of bent, articulated wires and ultralight metal planes are hypersensitive to moving air. Thanks to undulating and flowing patterns, works such as Lightweight carpet (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 mobile.

But it all comes down to the game: playing instruments, playing in the legacy of kinetic art (indeed, Calder once made a living designing toys) and the challenge of embracing the game. ‘That’s the thing. most difficult, ‘Prentice muses. “If someone said to me: ‘You have all day, you have nothing to do, you can just play’, I would say: ‘OK, well, that’s for who, where is he going , how big is it going to be, how much is it going to cost? I have to make it a job. This is my dilemma.

So, in the midst of all the pre-planning and meticulous control, who, at the end of the day, has the right to play? “This is a critical question,” says Prentice. “Chance 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 Square, 2016. Courtesy of Tim Prentice

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