Jean Tinguely’s Amsterdam was and is the Stedelijk Museum, which is bound up with his career as is almost no other. It was Willem Sandberg, the near-legendary and highly influential director of the Stedelijk Museum, who played the lead role initially. Sandberg, who first joined the Stedelijk in 1928, took over as its director after the Second World War and set about establishing it as a contemporary art museum of international renown. In both its exhibitions and in its printed matter – all of which the director, as a trained graphic designer and typographer, designed himself – the museum set new standards for the communication of modern art. Sandberg brought design, prints and photography to the Stedelijk; he also showed films and music there, making it a favourite haunt of the younger generation. Edy de Wilde, Sandberg’s successor, continued as he had begun. It was under these two directors (supported by curators like Ad Petersen), that the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam staged five exhibitions in which Jean Tinguely had a major role to play.

The first of these was Bewogen Beweging of 1961, a show that aimed to assemble kinetic art of renown from all over the world, both historical and contemporary, in a single exhibition. Sandberg had met Daniel Spoerri in Zurich and it was from that encounter that the exhibition concept emerged, as outlined by Spoerri in a letter to Sandberg dated 8 June 1960. Just four days later Tinguely wrote to Sandberg to express an interest in taking part in the exhibition in Amsterdam and offering his support for the undertaking. That Pontus Hultén, who by then was already director of the Moderna Museet in Stockholm, was likewise hatching plans for an exhibition of kinetic art of his own is unsurprising, given the friendship between all those involved. It was decided that Sandberg would leave the organization of the exhibition in Amsterdam to Spoerri, who in turn would define the key aspects of the project in collaboration with Hultén. The working group driving the project made up of Hultén, Sandberg, Spoerri and Tinguely was formalized in October 1960. As much as the two exhibitions in Amsterdam and later in Stockholm differed (both from each other and from the third port of call at the Louisiana Museum in Humlebaek, Copenhagen), Tinguely was by far the most prominent artist at all three editions. Bewogen Beweging at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam established Tinguely as the most important kinetic artist of his time.

Ausstellung Dylaby, Raum mit Ballons von Jean Tinguely, Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, 1962, Foto: Christer Strömholm

Ausstellung Dylaby, Raum mit Ballons von Jean Tinguely, Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, 1962
© Foto: Christer Strömholm / Strömholm Estate


One of the last exhibitions that Sandberg organized as director of the Stedelijk was DYLABY, Dynamic Labyrinth of 1962. Sandberg had invited Niki de Saint Phalle, Daniel Spoerri, Martial Raysse, Robert Rauschenberg, Per Olof Ultvedt and Jean Tinguely to conceive their own show, and the result, with Tinguely as organizer, was an immersive obstacle course that led visitors through the galleries and into a series of different art worlds, in which they were active participants.

During Edy de Wilde’s term as director Tinguely’s works were the subject of three monographic exhibitions: Jean Tinguely: Tekeningen, which was a show of his drawings and illustrated letters in late 1968, and two major presentations of his machine sculptures, the first of which – a retrospective that had begun in Paris and had previously been shown in Basel – was in 1973 and the second in late 1983.