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L'Esprit 60 de Tinguely

15 November 2000 – 22 April 2001

Following the successful exhibition L‘Esprit de Tinguely at the Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg, which presented the works of the Swiss sculptor in iron (1925–1991), important machine sculptures from the collection of the Museum Jean Tinguely such as Klamauk and Lola T. 180 will once again be shown in Basel. As there is an extensive collection of Tinguely sculptures here, which – in contrast to Wolfsburg – is on show permanently, the focus will be placed from November to May of next year on his works from the sixties.

In this decade, Tinguely developed his vast array of artistic vocabularies, which justify his worldwide success as the "sculptor of movement". Like other artists of the international avant-garde, he wanted to lift the boundaries between art and life. In a time of constant change and progress, Tinguely created works of art made from materials taken from everyday life centring on movement as a means of expression.

Objets trouvés and leftovers from the consumer and throwaway society that he found on the scrapyard were used as components for his motor-driven sculptures. But also Tinguely's sensational happening with Hommage à New York, the self-destructing and exploding machine construction in front of the Museum of Modern Art confirms his obsession with ephemeral anti-art. It is this aspect of his oeuvre in the sixties that constitutes one of Tinguely's pioneering achievements.

During the second half of the decade, Tinguely gives his sculptures a more unified look by painting them black and obfuscating the origin of the material. Despite the reminiscence of the classic sculpture, the artist also adds ambiguous humour to these works. He opposes the productivity of industrial machinery with his unproductive art-machines – the motors may function, but they repeat the same movements steadily without ever making any headway.

Tinguely's scrap sculptures of the early sixties are characterised by the presence of the material. His machine sculptures, which Tinguely and his friends drove through Paris in a public parade in Mai 1960, consist of rusty and bent pieces of iron, retired bicycles and prams. The artist himself described his art as "L‘Art fonctionnel" and made art inventions that perform and simultaneously question the birth process of a work of art while interacting with the audience. Cyclograveur, for example, creates abstract drawings with human interaction and La machine à casser les sculptures destroys plaster sculptures with a hammer. By transporting all these machines to the Galerie des 4 Saisons, Tinguely changes the tradition of exhibiting art in museums, taking it onto the streets and into everyday life.

His "Balubas", which were created between 1961 and 1963, display their feathers, plastic toys, fox furs and many more objets trouvés in wild and expressive dances. Tinguely uses motors that let machine sculptures such as Ballet des pauvres become actors playing parts that are merry and ironic and yet dramatic.

In the Alexandre Iolas gallery in New York in autumn 1962, Tinguely shows larger numbers of his new Radioskulpturen for the first time. With the help of a small electrical motor, the tuning knob of a disassembled but still functional radio is moved to and fro. This results in incomprehensible and therefore abstract radio sounds that are determined by chance and turn the household appliances into useless troublemakers.

Already in 1963, more solidly built sculptures were created that perform more moderate movements and that have a more sculptural look through their coat of black paint. Already then, Tinguely used theatrical lighting to highlight the highly expressive contours of his black sculptures. The movements of Chars and, above all, Hannibal II – machines that the artist considered to be fighting and loving machines – are thus particularly accentuated in the absurd back and forth and in their irony. Apart from his Eos and Bascule figures, whose swinging and circular movements are often almost taken to the point of tipping the sculpture over, he also constructed monumental works such as Eloge de la Folie, the black relief. The highly effective graphic appeal of the work of art's mobile silhouette was intentionally calculated by Tinguely.

Eloge de la Folie, which was created in 1966 as the set for the ballet of the same name by Roland Petit, is now being shown in Basel for the first time. Furthermore, there are central works from the sixties that were also to be seen in Wolfsburg, such as Le Chant du Cygne de Bambou (1963), Cyclograveur (1960) and the black machine sculptures Casimir (1964), La Spirale and Clarissa and Gwenn (1965). They are supplemented in the large hall of the Basel museum by further important objects on loan. The early scrap sculptures Si c’est noir, je m’appelle Jean and Strubelpeter are at play here, a group of "Balubas" perform their wild dances and Radioskulpturen fill the museum hall with their incoherent and rhythmic sounds. The immediacy and radicalness of his transient activities and happenings are made accessible at the exhibition through film and photo documentation. In a newly conceived video room in the basement of the museum, large-screen projections are shown of Tinguely's appearance in New York, his production of End of the World No. 2 in 1962 in the desert of Nevada as well as the La Vittoria happening at the dome of Milan in 1970.

An elaborately illustrated book on the exhibition L‘Esprit de Tinguely in Wolfsburg with interviews with Daniel Spoerri, Pontus Hulten, Bernhard Luginbühl and Niki de Saint Phalle and texts by Annelie Lütgens, Margrit Hahnloser, Ad Petersen and Andres Pardey has been published by Hatje Cantz Verlag, 416 pages, cost: CHF 48.-