top of page

Norman Tuck - Art Machines


Mindless Mechanisms: The Sculpture of Norman Tuck

Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art - Winston-Salem, North Carolina

October 26, 1991 – March 8, 1992

Interview with Norman Tuck 


The following interview was conducted by SECCA Associate Curator Richard Craven on October 14, 1991.

Craven: Mindless Mechanisms sounds like an act of folly. Just exactly why did you choose this title for an exhibition of your elaborate kinetic constructions here at SECCA?

Tuck: Ivan Karp, director of an art gallery in New York first called my work “mindless” in 1974. I think he meant that the sculptures seemed to be an exercise I pointless activity. Everything functions smoothly, yet nothing gets accomplished.

I chose the title in order to tell people that the work is to be experienced rather than understood, and that it is all right to leave your intellectual baggage at the door.

Craven: Obviously you are highly involved in the intricacies of mechanics and theories of physics in order to bring theses pieces into being – is this a serious activity or not?

Tuck: When I work on these pieces I am about as serious as a five year old child building sand monuments with his toy trucks in the backyard. His work is important to him and he is intense in his concentration, yet, he is still “playing.”

Craven: Earlier you mentioned an affinity with the cartoonist Rube Goldberg who was active in the 30’s. He drew images of ridiculous and complicated contraptions that accomplished silly or mundane tasks. It seems that there are distinctive differences between the whimsical spoofs of a Goldberg cartoon and the constructions of Norman Tuck. How would you describe your connections and differences?

Tuck: I think both Rube Goldberg and I have found a way to forget our troubles by letting our minds wander through a maze of intricate machinery and mechanical ideas. Ideally, out work allows our audience to do the same.

Rube Goldberg, however, drew realistic pictures of people and everyday things combined in complicated and unusual arrangements. My work, on the other hand, is abstract. It does not mirror the outside world, it is simply part of it.

Craven: Machines are ubiquitous and we are all individually engaged with technology on a daily basis. It seems that your work is, on some level, a perfectly reasonable response to twentieth century life. Do you consider the use of contemporary technologies as a new art form and do they suggest revolutionary aesthetics?

Tuck: Artists have always used contemporary technologies which were, of course, new at the time. I don’t see any revolution in aesthetics taking place at this moment or the near future.

Craven: Kinetic art, in terms of popularity in the art world, seems to be connected more to the 60s and 70s. Obviously, you have continued to explore the possibilities of the medium over the years. How do you feel about the future of kinetic art?

Tuck: For a brief period in the 1960s, kinetic art offered a formalist alternative to pop art as the dominant movement after the passage of abstract expressionism. Later, there was a negative backlash when it was seen that the machine could not revolutionize art to the degree that it ha revolutionized life.

Kinetic art is difficult to move, store, and maintain. Its technical complexity makes it hard for an artist to produce a large body of quality work in a short period of time. For these reasons, kinetic art will always be difficult to market. Therefore, I believe that it will never become a central movement in the increasingly market-driven art world.

There is, however, a growing network of artists who find beauty in the world pf movement and natural phenomena. Their work will become widely circulated between public institutions, such as SECCA, which see to recruit a new audience from the ranks of people who are bored by the overly intellectual work that ha characterized the art world in the recent past.

Exhibition Checklist

1. XIX 1973
mixed media
8 x 20 x 12 feet

2. Sky Reaper 
mixed media
11 x 17 x 11 feet

3. Blueprint for Sky Reaper 1973
reverse ozalid print
(limited edition)
8 x 10 x 17 feet

4. Double Dutch
mixed media
8 x 10 x 7 feet

5. Wooden Screw
mixed media
10 x 16 x 5 feet

6. Wave Generator 1975
mixed media
12 x 20 x 5 feet

7. Flipper 1977
edition 10/10)
15 x 17 x 15 inches

8. I’ll Tell You How the Sun Rose 1978
mixed media
15 x 20 x 6 feet

9. Blueprint for I’ll Tell You How the Sun Rose 1978
reverse ozalid print
(unlimited edition)
24 x 36 inches

10. Water Wheel
mixed media
12 x 12 x 12 feet

11. There Will be Time 1981
mixed media
18 x 9 x 10 inches

12. Random Clockwork 1981
mixed media
12 x 12 x 12 feet

13. Disco 1981
mixed media
4 x 12 x 12 feet

14. Timeless 1983
double five legged gravity escapement, mixed media
10 x 6 x 5 feet

15. Chain Reaction 1984
mixed media
7 x 4 x 4 feet

16. Magnetic Attraction 1984
mixed media
(edition 12/15)
14 x 12 x 12 inches
Collection of Victor Faccinto, Winston-Salem, NC

17. Terminal Piece 1986
crown wheel escapement, mixed media
12 x 30 x 30 feet

18. Conical Pendulum Clock 1986
gravity powered with electric rewind, mixed media
12 x 6 x 6 feet.

19. A Simple Mechanical Escapement 1987
crown wheel escapement, mixed media
6 x 3 x 3 feet

20. L.E.D. Cascade 1987
mixed media
22 x 24 x 14 inches

21. Rotate / Resonate 1989
mixed media
4 x 3 x 2 feet

22. Tapping the Juice
mixed media
4 x 18 x 18 inches

23. Theoretical and Applied Mechanics
mixed media
11 x 4 x 6 feet
Courtesy of The New York Hall of Science, Queens, NY

24. Mechanical Clock 1981
deadbeat escapement, gravity powered with electric rewind, mixed media
4 x 8 x 2 feet

25. Public Clock 1991
double five legged gravity escapement, gravity powered with electric rewind, mixed media
18 ½ x 6 x 6 feet

All works are protected by copyright, registered with the artist at the date of completion.

This exhibition is supported by The Arts Council Annual Fund Drive, Winston-Salem, NC and the North Carolina council - a State Agency.

bottom of page