Rijksmuseum Kröller-Müller Exhibition

July – September 1969

Catalog Essay

by Peter Struycken

Expression in visual art occurs when the various factors that are recognizable in the work because of their connections with one another obtain their specific expression. In works of high quality all the factors employed seem to be connected unequivocally. This connection is the work’s expression. The factors employed are related to the entirety in such a way that they cannot be isolated from it, or changed, without this causing an alteration in the expression. This alteration of expression is greater or smaller according to the degree to which the changed factor is decisive for the expression of the entirety. A condition for expression in visual art is that the relationship of the factors employed can be visually perceived.

It is not surprising, then, that regulation of relationships in a work occurs on a basis of visual criteria. These visual criteria become recognizable in the work itself, and are extremely closely connected with the desired expression, In Kenneth Snelson’s work, however, the remarkable fact is that the criteria for the factor-relationships in his work do not primarily proceed from visually expressive motives, but from technical ones. In his work the visually perceptible relationships of direction, number, size, form and material are immediately recognizable as relationships necessary for the function – i.e. stability – and determined by mechanics. It is not because of visual criteria that it is impossible to add or omit an element, to make an element bigger or smaller, to change an element’s direction, but because the connection between the rods and wires responsible for the stability are technically determined in such a way that this stability would cease to exist if suchw things were done. Stability is used as an end in itself. In no aspect whatsoever does it serve a particular purpose such as for instance the stability of a crane or bridge. Here, stability is both the means and the end of expression. The components of the form derive their visually recognizable context from their function and from the technical conditions connected with its realisation. Relationships between direction, number, size, form and material yield a new visually perceptible relationship principle because of their functional self-evidence. This results in an extension of our capacity of judging and experiencing relationships. Recognizability of function and construction become the norm for visual expression. And that is a sensational occurence.