A new look at Jean Tinguely's work

7 November 2012 – 30 September 2013

It is now sixteen years and over fifty exhibitions since the opening of the Museum Tinguely. The intention of the major show “Tinguely@Tinguely” is to present this artist afresh as one of the most inspirational figures in the international art scene around 1960. The exhibition will be accompanied by a new comprehensive collection catalogue reflecting the work and growth of the Museum Tinguely since 1996.

Early work In the years 1954 and 1955, in a frenzy of creativity, Tinguely brought forth the Méta-Herbin group, the Méta-Malevich group, the Blanc sur blanc group, the first Machines à dessiner, and the Volumes virtuels. With their incorporation of movement, pure chance, and elements designed to stimulate all the senses, these works paved new paths for the abstract formal experiments of European post-war art.

Actions and scrap In 1960 he began to mount actions, performance pieces and happenings that featured “objets trouvés” and were governed by a radical scrap or junk aesthetic. In so doing he succeeded in investing the waste of our consumer society with a new life of its own, a life that was wilfully original, strongly absurd, and often short-lived. With the autodestructive art works and performance pieces he mounted in Paris, London, New York, Humlebæk, the desert of Nevada and at other locations, Tinguely joined company with a rising generation of neo-Dadaist action artists. His Homage to New York of 1960 was the very first self-destroying art work. The auto-destructive action Study for an end of the World No. 2 (1962) pointed already in the direction of the staging of
landscape that later developed into what we now know as Land Art.

Matt black The black sculptures he created from 1963 onwards possess a new dynamic of their own. More compact in their appearance than earlier works, their matt black surfaces also give them greater homogeneity as a group. The sculpture Heureka created by Tinguely for “Expo 64” in Lausanne can be regarded as the first peak of achievement in this development.

Collective works The works on which Tinguely collaborated with other artists occupy a particularly important place in his oeuvre from the sixties onwards. Le Cyclop, which was
created between 1971 and 1991 at Milly-la-Forêt to the South of Paris, was also conceived as a “Gesamtkunstwerk”. Over 22 metres high, this collective “friendship sculpture” was co-executed by friends of Tinguely’s such as Niki de Saint Phalle, Bernhard Luginbühl, Daniel Spoerri, Eva Aeppli and many others.

Monumental artworks Tinguely’s sculptures always meet the beholder on several levels at once, using kinetic, optical, and acoustic means to make their impact and sometimes also working through the senses of smell and touch. One of the most many-faceted and monumental work groups is the series of music machines created between 1978 and 1985. Also the Grosse Méta-Maxi-Maxi-Utopia (1987) also counts as one of the series of largescale
acoustic sculptures, amongst which it is the only walk-in installation. Once inside, the visitor becomes – as in Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times – a part, or a product, of the machine and gets lost in a mechanical labyrinth and system of wheels and cogs. The Grosse Méta-Maxi-Maxi-Utopia is a highly theatrical work and a fine example of Tinguely’s commitment to performance art.

The passions Of Tinguely’s many passions, one of his greatest was for motor racing. He never ceased to be fascinated by the terror it can instil, by the high level of perfection in the association of man and machine, but also by the ever-present danger of accidents, chaos and death. Motor racing gave him inspiration for numerous artworks.

Radical Tinguely was one of the most radical and subversive artists of the twentieth century. His work deals with many fundamental questions of our human existence: how we relate to machines, the collaborative art work, the beauty and uselessness of movement, sound, noise and music, shadow play, lightness and heaviness, dissolution and emptiness, and the elements, as well as generally questioning the roles of art works, their originators and their beholders. One of Tinguely’s qualities is that his artistic achievements went hand in hand with great lightness of touch, humour, irony and parody. His oeuvre ranges from Dadaism à la Marcel Duchamp through geometrical abstraction and kinetic animation through to works that are veritable outbursts of baroque extravagance, all of which can now be experienced by visitors to this wide-ranging exhibition “Tinguely@Tinguely”.