Pol Bury at Chelsea Art Museum


Stare long enough at one of Pol Bury’s unsettling kinetic sculptures, and you may start to feel like those scientists in The Andromeda Strain searching for signs of microscopic alien life. Suddenly, you’re startled by tiny, possibly imagined, movement. In this small exhibit of the artist’s rarely seen devices, something a little eerie is happening.

Bury, a Belgium-born Parisian who died in 2005, started out in the late 1940s as a painter of Magritte-like surrealism. But after encountering Alexander Calder and the sculptor’s mobiles in 1952, Bury ditched the brush for the electric motor and devoted himself to the art of motion. Apart from a few examples of cinetasions (photographs he altered to suggest the shifting of space), all the work here gives nascent life to small populations of objects. In a piece from 1962, 16 Parallelepipeds, small rough squares of copper struggle to turn and touch each other. In others, spheres shift and shake, filaments slowly wave, and wooden blocks try to communicate something. Occasionally, you can hear the faintest of sounds.

Bury achieved such effects with clever mechanisms of motors, magnets, strings, and springs, but by keeping it all hidden, he created a sense of basic Nature: the will to exist. Rewarding patience, Bury’s marvelous living works, at first a bit creepy, are ultimately endearing.

Tuesdays-Saturdays, 11 a.m. Starts: March 11. Continues through April 4, 2009

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