La roue =
c'est tout.

Jean Tinguely with Moulin à Prière in the Gallery Iolas, Paris, 1963, photo: Monique Jacot

La roue = c'est tout
Permanent exhibition

from 8 February 2023


According to Tinguely, 'we live in a wheeled civilisation'. Even today, our lives are shaped largely by the relationship between man and machine and the resulting dependencies that Tinguely deconstructed with such relish. Now, for the first time since the museum was founded, its enlarged collection of Tinguely’s own works is to return to the great hall. There visitors will be able to discover the intricate and poetic early works, the explosive happenings and collaborations of the 1960s, and the musical, monumental and sombre works of Tinguely’s late period, all presented in an entertaining and eventful tour with many opportunities for hands-on participation.

For the first time since the Museum’s founding in 1996, a new permanent exhibition has been created on the basis of its own ever-growing collection. Supplemented by loans of key works, it offers a comprehensive overview of Tinguely’s oeuvre that takes his claim «La roue = c’est tout» as its leitmotif: as well as being a recurring theme throughout his career, the wheel also stands for his belief that changing times should find expression in art.


Jean Tinguely, Méta-Matic No. 6, 1959

In 1952, having trained at the Academy of Applied Arts and worked as a window dresser in Basel, Tinguely moved to Paris, a bold step that would prove decisive for his career, giving access to new sources of inspiration and important contacts in the art world. The first section of the new exhibition highlights Tinguely’s inventiveness and innovativeness, showcasing the wire sculptures and reliefs from the 1950s that established his reputation as a pioneer of kinetic art. His breakthrough came in 1959 with the Méta-Matic drawing machines. By involving the audience, he questioned not only conventional definitions of artwork and artist, but also the structures of the capitalist art market.

La roue "le début de tout" - la mobilité totale, la folie, la vitesse, la quantité industrielle

Jean Tinguely, 1966

Tour of the permanent exhibition with director and curator Roland Wetzel and curatorial assistant Tabea Panizzi.

Jean Tinguely, Hannibal II, 1967

Jean Tinguely, Hannibal II, 1967

In 1960, Tinguely joined other artists in the Nouveaux Réalistes, a movement dedicated to overcoming the divide between art and life. At the same time, Tinguely began making works out of scrap metal and everyday materials. In the permanent exhibition, these works are juxtaposed with the following series of black sculptures he made from the mid-1960s. By painting the sculptures black, Tinguely shifted the focus from the individual elements making up the machines to the different types of movement inscribed into them, ranging from light and elegant to heavy and pounding.

Filmstill: Jean Tinguely, 1975  Regie: Adrian Maben © RM Productions, lizenziert durch Centre du Film sur l’Art, Brüssel

Filmstill from the Trailer Tinguely, 2011
Regie: Thomas Thümena
© Hugofilm Productions GmbH

Cinema Tinguely

Five documentary films from the 1970s to 2011 present interviews with Tinguely himself, but also conversations with family members, friends and art experts who share their memories of Tinguely. Combined with historical film footage the films try to give a sense of the person behind the legend.

Programme and show times:

11:30 am | 5 pm
Jean Tinguely, 1975 
French, 45’00’’ 
Dir.: Adrian Maben
© RM Productions, licensed by Centre du Film sur l’Art, Brussels
Using interviews with Niki de Saint Phalle, Pontus Hultén and Jean Tinguely himself, Adrian Maben’s film paints an intimate portrait of the artist, with a soundtrack by none other than Pink Floyd.

12:30 pm
Tinguely: A Kinetic Cosmos, 1970s
English, 32’00’’
Dir.: François de Menil & Monique Alexandre 
Courtesy of Menil Archives, The Menil Collection, Houston.  
© François de Menil
As the son of the collector Dominique de Menil, François de Menil soon came into contact with the art world and as early as 1966, aged 21, he documented the installation of HON at Moderna Museet in Stockholm. In the 1970s, he accompanied Tinguely with the camera in his studio and at the Cyclop site, while exhibitions were being set up, and during carnival in Basel.

1:15 pm
Vis-à-vis : Jean Tinguely, 1988 
German, 58’11’’
© 1988 SRF, licensed by Telepool GmbH Zürich
Three years before his death, Jean Tinguely looks back at his life and career in this interview with the journalist Frank A. Meyer. He speaks about his childhood, about key themes and sources of inspiration for his work, and about collaborations with friends.

2:30 pm | Thursday 6:15 pm
Spuren der Zeit: Jo Siffert und Jean Tinguely, 2007
German, 36’00’’
Dir.: Denise Chervet
© 2007 SRF, licensed by Telepool GmbH Zürich
Jean Tinguely was a Formula 1 enthusiast and a good friend of the racing driver Jo Siffert. What they had in common went beyond their shared love of cars, noise, and speed: with ambition and talent, they both pursued international careers. Using archive material and many interviews with mutual friends, the film tells the story of their friendship.

3:15 pm | Thursday 7:15 pm
Tinguely, 2011
German with English subtitles, 87’00’’ 
Dir.: Thomas Thümena
© Hugofilm Productions GmbH
In 2011, Thomas Thümena made the most recent feature-length documentary on Jean Tinguely. Combining archive footage and interviews with family members, acquaintances, and art experts, all of whom share their memories of Tinguely, the film gives a sense of the human being behind the legend.

Aufbau von HON im Moderna Museet, Stockholm, 1966, Foto: Hans Hammarskiöld © Hans Hammarskiöld Heritage

Construction of ‘HON’ at Moderna Museet, Stockholm, 1966, Photo: Hans Hammarskiöld, © Hans Hammarskiöld Heritage

The new permanent exhibition also focuses attention on Tinguely’s performances and happenings, and on the joint projects he planned and realized with his artist friends. They took him out of his studio, from Paris via London to New York and into the Nevada Desert, from Stockholm via Milan and Milly-la-Forêt back to Basel. Planning sketches, photographs, and film footage as well as surviving fragments underscores the diversity and ingenuity of Tinguely’s work. His performances and projects were both amusing and provocative, as well as defying the conventions of art history.

As a special highlight, a key work from the 1960s is going on show for the first time in over twenty years. L’Éloge de la Folie exemplifies the many collaborations in which Tinguely as involved. Like a gigantic shadow play, the flat black gear train measuring 5 x 7.5 meters is eye-catchingly lit from behind. Originally, the work served as part of the stage set for a ballet of the same name that premiered at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées in Paris in 1966. Back then, a dancer set the cogwheels in motion by pedaling. Today, this task is performed by an electric motor, but the mutual dependency of human and machine is expressed poetically by a human silhouette.

Jean Tinguely, Fatamorgana, Méta-Harmonie IV, 1985

Jean Tinguely, Fatamorgana, Méta-Harmonie IV, 1985

As well as the walk-through sculpture Grosse-Méta-Maxi-Maxi-Utopia (1987), the new permanent exhibition also sees music machines like Fatamorgana – Méta-Harmonie IV (1985) and Méta-Harmonie II (1979) reclaim their place in the open space of the hall that was designed by architect Mario Botta specifically to house Tinguely’s large-scale works. The different sculptures are set in motion in sequence, allowing visitors to experience them in action one after the other.

Jean Tinguely, Hippopotamus, 1991

Finally, Tinguely’s work of the 1980s features on a newly constructed mezzanine floor. This material is often dark and religious in character, a consequence of Tinguely’s engagement with the themes of death and transience. These aspects also fed into his lifelong fascination with motor racing, prompted by its perfect combination of human and machine, but also by the latent danger of crashes, chaos, and death. His frequent visits to Formula One races were also a source of raw materials; as well as animal skulls, his late machines often included fragments of damaged racing cars.

A wall display at the entrance to the museum offers a new way in for families and visitors with kids. Appealing to multiple senses, it makes suggestions for an inspiring visit and gives insights into the museum’s art education programme.

The museum also offers ‘parcours trails for families' shortly that allow the artworks in the collection to be explored in playful ways designed to be thought-provoking for young and old.

Curated by Roland Wetzel, assisted by Tabea Panizzi