Hood Museum of Art
Thoughtful Mechanisms: The Lyrical Engineering of Arthur Ganson
The Hood Museum of Art celebrates the whimsical mechanical sculptures of native New Englander Arthur Ganson in Thoughtful Mechanisms: The Lyrical Engineering of Arthur Ganson. On view January 15 to March 12, 2000 this exhibition shares the wonder and genius of Ganson's creations, which include a sauntering wishbone, an exploding chair that pulls itself back together, a machine with eggshells that delicately clack random rhythms, and other awe-inspiring machines that dance, flutter, tumble, and even breathe. An internationally acclaimed artist, Ganson incorporates his direct observations of human beings and nature into the creation of machines that evoke wonder, laughter, and reflection. (left: Arthur Ganson at work in his studio. Collection of the artist)
Ganson's kinetic machines range from simple, heavy steel constructions to complex, wire silhouettes. Many of these machines are viewer activated or driven by electric motors, some operating with gears and sprockets made by the artist himself. In a lengthy article on Ganson published in Smithsonian Magazine, author David Sims describes the sculptor's work as "retrotechnology with a 19th-century quality.... No lasers, no subminiaturized computer wizardry. What you see is what you get. People generally get what they see because there are so many points of entry, the end result of the playful Ganson mind.... Kids love Machine with Wishbone because it's 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." (left: Arthur Ganson, Machine with Roller Chain, 1996, Collection of the artist)
Although inspired by the work of Swiss kinetic sculptor Jean Tinguely (1925-1991) and such other artists as Bauhaus painter Paul Klee (1879-1940), many of Ganson's works reflect the singular and original vision of the machine aesthetic. Ganson describes himself as a cross between an engineer and a choreographer, and he uses his innate mechanical abilities to produce fantasy. Unlike most artists, Ganson's work is not intended to make a particular statement: "I feel very strongly that the pieces need to stand on their own. I'm not interested in intellectual sculpture that needs to be explained to be understood." Instead, Ganson frees viewers' imaginations by producing machines with expressive and individual personalities based on the artist's observations of human nature. Appropriately, some machines in the exhibition have attitude, while others are more thoughtful. (right: Arthur Ganson, Machine with 23 Scraps of Paper, 1998, Collection of the artist)
Ganson captures the innocent nature of childhood in Child Watching Ball (1996). A combination of steel, copper pipe, and chains come to life as a motorized doll head follows the playful motions of a toy ball. Machine with 11 Scraps of Paper (1999) evokes a more meditative mood. Powered by an intricate series of gears and cranks, eleven tall metal stems gently wave wires topped with white scraps of paper. The scraps of paper flutter quietly and give the machine an ethereal quality--as if it were a small flock of birds in slow motion or a delicate planting of flowers caught in a soft, summer breeze.
Ganson is an artist-in-residence at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology where many of his machines are on long-term display. He has also held residencies in science museums, collaborated with the Studebaker Movement Theater, and been featured in solo exhibitions at Harvard University's Carpenter Center, the DeCordova Museum in Lincoln, Mass., and the Ricco /Maresca Gallery in New York. Arthur Ganson is also the creator of the popular foam construction toy Toobers and Zots. (left: Arthur Ganson, Machine with 23 Scraps of Paper (detail), 1998, Collection of the artist)
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