New presentation of Museum Tinguely’s collection

Eva Aeppli, Jean Tinguely and Per Olof Ultvedt with Méta-Matic drawings, studio Impasse Ronsin, Paris, 1959; photo: Hansjörg Stoecklin

« le Définitif - c'est le Provisoire »
New presentation of Museum Tinguely’s collection, from 3 March 2021 onwards

A quarter-century after the opening of Museum Tinguely on the banks of the Rhine in Basel, the new permanent exhibition (opening 3 March 2021) will focus on the charismatic artist Jean Tinguely and the media impact of his kinetic sculptures and actions. The new exhibition draws to an unprecedented degree on the museum’s unique collection of documents and archive materials.

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Tinguely and his art in the news

At the beginning of his artistic career, at the end of the 1950s, Tinguely’s DIY art machines caused a sensation both in the art world and in the international press. With his drawing machines, the Méta-Matics, he catapulted himself onto the front pages of major newspapers, prompting journalists around the world to wrote headlines like: “Want To Be An Artist? Just Buy This Machine, And You Are In.”

Works from the Museum’s extensive collection are complemented by major loans. In this way the exhibition explores the beginning of Tinguely’s career abroad, followed by his first appearances in Switzerland. The show places documents on paper, photographs, sound and film recordings in a new media context. Tinguely’s work of the 1950s and ‘60s, presented in exhibitions and actions from Paris to New York, via Bern, Lausanne and Tokyo, is multi-facetted and defies previous art-historical conventions. Provocative and amusing in equal measure, it declares life to be art. His works invite us to participate directly, always addressing multiple sensory levels of art experience.

Jean Tinguely, Méta-Matic No. 10, 1959

Jean Tinguely, Méta-Matic No. 10, 1959
Museum Tinguely, Basel, Donation Niki de Saint Phalle
© 2021, ProLitteris, Zurich; photo: Museum Tinguely, Basel, Serge Hasenböhler

It’s not possible to make a silent engine’, he wrote. ‘An engine inevitably produces noises; my machines aren’t made to function without incident, but to have the noises manifest themselves in a powerful, musical, fashion. That sound is a part of a machine I realise, and I’ve tried to make it participate in the machine as much as the plasticity of the machine itself.

Jean Tinguely

Jean Tinguely, collaged spiral book with photos, documents and press reports (among others St. Louis Post-Dispatch) on Jean Tinguely and his work, approx. 1960,

Jean Tinguely, collaged spiral book with photos, documents and press reports (among others St. Louis Post-Dispatch) on Jean Tinguely and his work, approx. 1960, Museum Tinguely, Basel © 2021, ProLitteris, Zurich; photo: Museum Tinguely, Basel, Daniel Spehr

 

Jean Tinguely, collaged spiral book with photos, documents and press reports (among others Die Woche) on Jean Tinguely and his work, approx. 1960

Jean Tinguely, collaged spiral book with photos, documents and press reports (among others Die Woche) on Jean Tinguely and his work, approx. 1960, Museum Tinguely, Basel © 2021, ProLitteris, Zurich; photo: Museum Tinguely, Basel, Daniel Spehr

Jean Tinguely, Rotozaza 2, 1967

Jean Tinguely, Rotozaza 2, 1967
Museum Tinguely, Basel
© 2021 ProLitteris, Zurich, Museum Tinguely; photo: Bettina Matthiessen

Spectacles on different stages

As a pioneer, Tinguely managed to repeatedly reposition his kinetic machine art. He created loud sound spectacles using everyday objects, putting them and himself in the spotlight by taking part in various international theatre productions – sometimes as set designer, sometimes as part of the cast – using his works to address urgent issues of the time. One example is the bottle smasher Rotozaza No. 2 (1967), first shown fifty years ago on 19 October 1967 with a performance in New York.

Rotozaza No. 2, 1967

It deals with emerging criticism of our disposable consumer society, aiming to “make a mockery of the practical and rational side of the productive machine”.

 At Museum Tinguely, this rarely shown work will be activated from time to time for visitors for a few minutes.

With warmest regards – treasured artists’ letters

Tinguely understood his art as meaningful nonsense. In his productions, joie de vivre plays an important role, but also ephemerality. This is reflected not only in his kinetic sculptures, but also in his works on paper, where we discover him as an inventive creator of drawings and collages. Over the course of his artistic career, he sent hundreds of letters to friends and people with whom he worked around the world. The colourful drawings and collages contained in these letters have a distinctive visual idiom, making them fascinating works in their own right.

 

Some of the letters that Tinguely wrote to his friends have been recorded. Listen to his texts and find out how he kept in touch with his friends and acquaintances.

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In the exhibition, visitors can rediscover the creative activity of letter writing, something that has fallen from prominence in today’s digital world, and send handmade letters à la Tinguely to their own friends.

I draw a huge amount of stuff, just as we doodle while on the phone. At the same time I systematically transform this kind of drawing into messages to my friends, into letters, and such like.

Jean Tinguely, 1976

Jean Tinguely, Letter drawing to Maja Sacher, 1976

Jean Tinguely, Letter drawing to Maja Sacher, 1976
Museum Tinguely, Basel, Donation Paul Sacher
© 2021 ProLitteris, Zurich, Museum Tinguely; photo: Daniel Spehr

Conserving Tinguely’s kinetic art

The exhibition also offers information on the materiality and functioning of Tinguely’s works, providing interesting insights into their construction, as well as surprising hidden technical details concerning their conservation: which measures must be taken to keep Tinguely’s works running as long as possible? The information on offer includes recent findings concerning the radio sculptures of the 1960s, and approaches to restoring such fragile works as Ballet des pauvres (1961) or the Balubas (from 1961). And what actually happens to the ephemeral materials used by Tinguely to make his collages, such as nail varnish, stickers or transfers?