Kinetic artwork by Frank Malina restored for public display at Oxford Brookes University

Thursday, 23 May 2019

Cosmos 3 (2)

A radical piece of art from celebrated aeronautical engineer turned artist Frank Malina, has been returned to its previous working glory following a restoration project at Oxford Brookes University.

Cosmos is an early example of kinetic art and has had a tumultuous history since originally being commissioned by Robert Maxwell in the 1960s before eventually being lost from public access for several years. 

The latest piece of public art at Oxford Brookes will be unveiled during the University’s Founders’ Day celebrations on Thursday 23 May 2019, which commemorates the institution’s roots dating back to 1865. 

Cosmos was was originally commissioned in 1965 for the foyer of Robert Maxwell’s publishing house Pergamon Press. The publisher’s estate eventually became part of the Headington Hill Hall building now used by Oxford Brookes on its Headington Campus. 

The monumental piece of kinetic art (relating to motion), was handed into the care of Oxford Brookes. It has now been restored and is a complex mix of lights and moving parts, depicting the universe in harmony. 

The artwork will be permanently placed by the Glass Tank Exhibition Space in the Headington Campus’ Abercrombie Building. Cosmos’ dimensions are approximately 2.65m (8 ft) wide by 3.21m (10 ft) high and weighs around 375 kg (59 stones). It is programmed to switch on for 10 minutes on the hour during the day, every day.

The theme, construction and style of Cosmos links to both the University’s origins as the Oxford School of Art in 1865, and its future with the construction about to begin on the University’s inspirational new building for the Faculty of Technology, Design and Environment. The £25 million build will provide purpose-built space for a variety of practical teaching, research and knowledge exchange activities. It will bring together engineering, computing and a number of disciplines from the creative industries. 

Cosmos spent several years locked away in a storeroom and needed to be transferred ahead of the current demolition work for its previous home, the Helena Kennedy building. Rediscovered, it has now been restored to its former glory by curators from the RCM art gallery in Paris. Oxford Brookes technicians have also lent their expertise in replacing the 1960’s electrical circuits and lights for more up to date versions.

Paul Inman, Pro-Vice Chancellor and Dean of the Faculty of Technology, Design and Environment said: “Oxford Brookes University continues to demonstrate its commitment to expanding its sector-leading Public Art collection. Frank Malina’s Cosmos is a particularly pleasing addition to the artworks on display at the University’s campuses. 

“As the Faculty of Technology, Design and Environment moves to co-locate its STEM and Creative Industries portfolios on one campus, what better way to celebrate than to unveil a kinetic artwork made by a rocket scientist? The story behind the finding of this ‘lost’ artwork is also one that has captured the imagination of staff, students and our wider community.”

Frank Malina had a varied career where he re-invented himself from scientist to artist. He moved to Paris in the 1950’s to work for UNESCO. He was uncomfortable with the use of science in a nuclear age and eventually fell foul of the US McCarthy era administration. He left his UN post, put his energy into art and is lauded by many in the art world as a founder of the kinetic art movement.