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Panamarenko

17 May – 15 October 2000

From May 17 to October 15, the Museum Jean Tinguely Basel is showing works by Panamarenko. The exhibition provides another rare opportunity to see the oeuvre of this Belgian artist – born in 1940 – in Switzerland. As artist, engineer, poet, physicist, inventor and visionary all rolled into one, Panamarenko occupies an exceptional position in contemporary art that is difficult to categorise. His poetic constructions, that are often of monumental size, are experiments both artistic and technical in nature. They can assume a host of different forms: aircraft, flying saucers, automobiles and submarines – machines that are as playful as they are awesome.
The artist has devised the exhibition together with the Hayward Gallery, London and with exhibition curator Jon Thompson and has personally supervised its setting up in the Museum Jean Tinguely.

Panamarenko attended art school in Antwerp, leaving this institution in 1962. It was during this period that he began to use a pseudonym – his only name in public life. Initially, he worked as a performance artist and arranged “happenings” on the streets of Antwerp. These early activities rapidly earned him local fame as an artist and acquaintance with the established older generation. In common with Joseph Beuys and Marcel Broodthaers, Panamarenko wished to create works that offer more than just aesthetic elegance, but that open up paths to a new kind of experience.

At the invitation of Joseph Beuys, Panamarenko presented his Flugzeug in the Düsseldorf Kunstakademie in 1968. Only one year later, his works were already on show in many galleries in the Federal Republic of Germany and in the USA. In 1972, Harald Szeemann invited him to show his Aeromodeller at Dokumenta V in Kassel, thereby finally introducing him to an international public. His works were presented at a series of exhibitions in Lucerne, Düsseldorf and Stuttgart in 1972 and 1973 and then, in 1978, in the Nationalgalerie Berlin and also in Otterlo und Brussels. In 1981, the Aeromodeller went on show in the Centre Pompidou in Paris.

His first retrospective was held in Munich in 1982, followed by a second in 1998 in the Fondation Cartier in Paris, where Panamarenko presented his U-Boat Panama, Spitsbergen. Switzerland saw his works early on. An exhibition in the Kunstmuseum Lucerne was followed by a comparison between his machines and those of Leonardo da Vinci, Arnold Boecklin and Vladimir Tatlin 1977 in the Basel Kunsthalle. Twice – in 1984 and 1989 - Panamarenko took part in FURKART at the top of the Furka Pass.

Panamarenko’s machines are intended to liberate people from gravity: they are designed to enable onlookers to escape the forces of terrestrial and magnetic attraction and to experience new forms of travel and movement as well as exceptional, remote and hitherto unknown locations. In this sense they are far more than just inventions. They help us to discover how everyday aspects of our life – the way in which we move from A to B – could be indescribably different and enjoyable.

Throughout his more than 30-year career, Panamarenko’s artistic activity has always been inexorably linked to his preoccupation with science and technology. Although his sculptures are works of art conjured up by his imagination, they are nonetheless based on his interpretations of laws of physics, biology, aerodynamics and technology. All the works in this exhibition – original-size models, experimental models and mock-ups – have grown out of serious intentions. While the mechanical components of a few of the objects may need further perfection and some motors still require fine tuning, the artist’s desire has always been to create - in each case - something that is ultimately a totally viable, functioning machine.

To become involved in Panamarenko’s work is to become involved in a fantasy kingdom that wishes to be taken seriously. Our ability to understand these machines depends entirely on our capacity to believe that they really do work and thereby can transport us into a different – better – world: a world that we can depart from and return to at will.

This exhibition, devised in London’s Hayward Gallery, brings works from all the artist’s creative periods to the Museum Jean Tinguely Basel. Exhibits include the flying machines Das Flugzeug (1967), The Aeromodeller (1969-71), Bernoulli (1995), Bing of the Ferro Lusto (1997) and the submarine Panama, Spitsbergen, Nova Zemblaya (1996) as well as the robotic chickens Archaeopterix (1990-1991).