Butler Art Institute Introduces Kinetic Art Exhibit

Inspired by a sister museum in Santa Barbara, Calif., The Butler introduced hands-on art displays this semester. Photos by Kamron Meyers /The Jambar

By Zach Mosca

According to The Butler’s executive director and chief curator, Louis Zona, kinetic art has been around since the 1960s and encourages exhibitors to interact with pieces with their hands. Some pieces even use technology to create effects such as flashing lights or patterns.

Zona said The Butler staff has been interested in acquiring kinetic art pieces for a long time. Just recently, the opportunity arose to add it to the museum’s collection, featuring over 100 unique pieces of art from artists such as Marcel Duchamp, Nam June Paik and many more.

“We became good friends with the folks out in Santa Barbara, California, who have created a museum of kinetic art … The museum decided they were going to part with their collection and they looked to us, and we were so happy to oblige them,” Zona said.

While the COVID-19 pandemic could make exhibits like this risky to interact with, The Butler has come up with solutions for patrons to interact with the pieces without touching them. Butler Collections Registrar Alison Begala explained the technology used to make certain pieces work without touching them.

“They have motion sensors so that instead of having to press a button, the viewer will just have to walk in front of a sculpture and then it starts up,” Begala said. 

However, there are some pieces that had no alternate methods of making them work. As such, these pieces will not be on display right away, but after the pandemic, visitors will have even more kinetic art to discover and even more new ways to interact with it.

Liz Skeels, Butler exhibition registrar, described one of the pieces put on hold due to the pandemic.

“There are some pieces where you would actually be using your hands to drop a metal ball through a maze of wire, and the ball would hit a chime and it will make a song,” Skeels said. 

Begala recalled how excited she and the staff became when receiving these pieces and seeing how each one worked.

“We’ve mentioned multiple times that because it was in the middle of December, it felt like opening Christmas presents early because so much of it is exciting and curious to look at,” Begala said. 

Zona said he is very excited for the public to see everything the kinetic art exhibit has to offer. He added that those who have seen the limited number of pieces on display now express anticipation as well.

“Most people who have had a sneak preview of the collection love it and feel that once it’s fully open to the public, it’s going to be a wonderful thing for the community, so we’re looking forward to that day,” Zona said.