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Massachusetts Institute of Technology  /  MIT Museum
Building N51   265 Massachusetts Avenue   Cambridge, MA 02139
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Gestural Engineering: The Sculpture of Arthur Ganson

Ganson sculpture detail

Self-described as a cross between a mechanical engineer and a choreographer, Arthur Ganson creates contraptions composed of a range of materials from delicate wire to welded steel and concrete. Most are viewer-activated or driven by electric motors. All are driven by a wry sense of humor or a probing philosophical concept.

"When making a sculpture," Ganson says, "It's always a challenge to say enough but not say too much, to coax with some kind of recognizable bait, then leave the viewer to draw his or her own conclusions and thereby find personal meaning."

Moving objects are playfully linked by intention and subject in A Child and a Ball, which entails an active child mesmerized by a moving ball. In Machine with Wishbone, a real chicken wishbone pulls the very mechanism responsible for its movement. Another sculpture writes the word "Faster" as it is pushed. Other works explore the nature of oiled surfaces, object manipulation, slow explosions, and the organic implications of slow moving roller chain.

In a profile of Ganson in Smithsonian Magazine, David Sims described the sculptor's work as "retrotechnology with a nineteenth-century quality.... No lasers, no subminiaturized computer wizardry. What you see is what you get," and, Sims added, ‘People generally get what they see because there are so many different points of entry, an 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. Rube Goldberg meets Jean-Paul Sartre."

"We read objects in motion on both the objective and subjective levels," says Ganson. "A machine may be about fabric or grease, but it may also be about thick liquid and sensuous movement. A bit deeper, it may be about meditation or the sense of release. And taken yet another step, it may be about pure invention and the joyfulness in the heart of its creator."

A longtime resident of the Boston area, Arthur Ganson has explored kinetic sculpture for twenty years. His colorful career includes sculpture racing with the World Sculpture Racing Society in the 1980s. He is also the creator of the popular foam construction toy, Toobers and Zots. Ganson has held residencies in science museums, collaborated with the Studebaker Movement Theatre, and been featured in one-man shows at MIT Museum, Harvard's Carpenter Center, the DeCordova Museum, and the Ricco/Maresca Gallery in New York.

Citing that "each of his artworks is an invention in itself," the Lemelson-MIT Program, which honors the acclaimed and unsung heroes who have helped improve our lives through invention, named Ganson "Inventor of the Week" in 1998.

Ganson's 1998 artist-in-residency at MIT was sponsored by the MIT Council for the Arts in collaboration with curricular departments and the MIT Museum.

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Arthur Ganson at Chain Reaction

Chain reaction meister Arthur Ganson at the MIT Museum's 2003 "Friday After Thanksgiving Chain Reaction"

To watch moving images of Ganson's work, click here.