SAFARI IN RESTAURO. Restoration of Jean Tinguely’s “Le Safari de la Mort Moscovite” in the presence of museum visitors, from 18 April 2016 onwards
On 3 September 2016 a parade will take place through the streets of Fribourg (CH) on the occasion of the “Grand Prix Tinguely” to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the death of Jean Tinguely (30.08.1991). Tinguely’s Le Safari de la Mort Moscovite (1989), Safari for short, which was understood by the artist as a “traveling sculpture”, will lead this procession, together with carnival floats, racing cars, and old-timers. Colleagues from the conservation and restoration department at Museum Tinguely are meanwhile getting Safari ready for the road again. To this end various conservation and restoration measures are being performed on this work.
From 18 April onward, museum visitors will be able to follow the restorers’, Jean-Marc Gaillard and Albrecht Gumlich, along with Chantal Willi, intern at Museum Tinguely and student on the Conservation and Restoration course at Bern University of the Arts, work live. The SAFARI IN RESTAURO project thus offers exciting insights into conservation and restoration decision-making and measures. The individual measures will be documented in the form of text and photos on a “pin board” in the exhibition space and continuously updated. The exhibition space is being converted into a kind of restoration workshop for the purpose. Photos and films will document the genesis and exhibition history of Tinguely’s work.
Goal of the conservation and restoration of Safari
The primary aim of a conservation measure is always to keep an artwork intact in its intended condition. In addition, preventative measures are taken in order to minimize avoidable modifications to the object as far as possible. The constantly advancing wear to which a kinetic artwork such as Safari is subjected necessarily leads to a dilemma: as a result of the movement, the original material is worn down. However, if the movement of Safari is halted, the artist’s original intention is lost. The complex conservational challenge with Safari arises from the fact that the artist provided for two motion sequences for the work: Tinguely’s kinetic construction, and the linear locomotion of the car itself. A video that has been made in connection with this restoration project by students from the Conservation and Restoration department of the Bern University of the Arts, under the leadership of Marc Egger, lecturer on the Modern Materials and Media course, explains the motion sequences and acoustic dimension of Safari, which are important components of the artwork and must therefore be preserved. In an initial step the car’s mechanism will be repaired. Fragile construction components will be secured and documented. A detailed inventory of the work will be used as a reference and used for archiving purposes on completion of the restoration works. The aim of the project is to preserve as much of the work’s dynamic diversity as possible, in line with the artist’s intention. At the same time the risk to the original material is to be kept to a minimum. Following the conservation and restoration measures a decision can be made as to how exactly and under what conditions Safari will drive in the parade on 3 September in Fribourg.
Genesis and exhibition history of Tinguely’s “traveling sculpture” Safari
The work was created in 1989 in Jean Tinguely’s studio “La Verrerie” near Progens in the canton of Fribourg (CH) for the major retrospective at the Central House of the Artist in Moscow (03.04. – 02.05.90). Tinguely built the “traveling sculpture” on a Renault 5. The title Safari is the name, on the one hand, of a special model of the R5 previously made by Renault; on the other hand it is an allusion to the many animal skulls that make up the work. Tinguely, working with his former assistant Seppi Imhof, mounted a kinetic construction consisting of large wooden wheels onto the scrapped Renault 5; a number of animal skulls and other found objects are tied onto the construction. The kinetic construction is crowned by a scythe, the instrument of the “Grim Reaper” and symbolic figure of death. Whereas in Klamauk (1979), the defining aspect was the fun-loving, carefree side, the dark side, characterized by death and the end of days, is the defining aspect here. The car itself becomes an emblem of death. By using the car, a status symbol in our consumer society, Tinguely wanted to draw the attention of prosperity-seeking Russian visitors, in the age of increasing perestroika openness, to the ephemerality of Western luxury goods. Although Tinguely had devised Safari for his big Moscow exhibition in 1990, it was on show for the first time on 1 September 1989 at the Freitagsgalerie in Solothurn (CH), which had been run by Seppi Imhof, together with his brother Rolf, since 1975. In March 1990 Safari left the artist’s Fribourg studio for Moscow, in a convoy with three large trucks containing many other works by Tinguely. After the major Ferdinand Hodler show in 1988 the Tinguely exhibition was the second major cultural event that had been organized by the Pro Helvetia culture foundation for the promotion of Swiss artists’ presence in the Soviet Union. Depending on the ruble exchange rate, admission cost between thirty Swiss centimes and three Swiss francs. To the delight of many onlookers, Seppi Imhof occasionally drove a few laps around the exhibition building by day. The artist’s assistant told photographer Leonardo Bezzola that he had gotten as far as Red Square one night. Bezzola, who was also staying in Moscow at the time, doubted this story, though: “There are no witnesses. Perhaps it was a dream?”
Tinguely is rumored to have expressed the desire to have Safari drive only in snow, preferably on Red Square, the world-famous landmark of the Russian metropolis. As there was no snow on the ground in Moscow at the time, Bezzola compiled a photomontage that shows the car sculpture against the backdrop of a snow-covered Red Square. The Moscow show was an enormous success and was put on in a slightly modified form from 3 February to 7 April 1991 at the Musée d’art et d’histoire in Fribourg (CH). On the day of the opening Safari, sprinkled with artificial snow, drove a few laps in the garden of the Ratzehof, beneath the arcades of which a big opening party was celebrated with a buffet provided by the Luginbühl family. To the artist’s great delight, snow really did fall in February and covered the works presented in the garden outside the museum, including Safari and L’Ours de Bursinel (1990), in a layer of white.
After Tinguely’s death Safari was exhibited in summer 1993 along with other late works in the factory halls of the “Fours à Chaux” in St. Ursanne on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the St. Ursanne – Les Rangiers mountain car race. Since the opening of Museum Tinguely in 1996 to the present day Safari has been on show several times at the collection presentation in Basel, and the work was shown in the context of two Tinguely exhibitions: in 2002 at Kunsthalle Mannheim, and in 2007/8 at Kunsthal Rotterdam.