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Jean Tinguely


Ballet des pauvres

1961

Material / technique: Aluminium plate, iron wheels, transmissions and rods, fabric, plastic, metal, furs, leather and other materials, electric motor
Size: 400 x 350 x 220 cm
Inv.Number: 11167
Catalog: Bischofberger 0237
Creditline: Museum Tinguely, Basel

In March 1961, the important travelling exhibition “Bewogen Beweging” opened in Amsterdam, giving the public its first comprehensive overview of kinetic art from the Futurists to Alexander Calder. Among the 72 artists, Jean Tinguely was represented with no less than 28 works. For the show’s second venue, the Moderna Museet in Stockholm, Tinguely built two new machine sculptures. One of these is “Miramar”, which the artist later renamed “Ballet des pauvres” (Ballet of the Poor) due to the reactions of museumgoers. Pathetic-looking, ragged, defective and discarded objects from our everyday lives hang on wires and rubber bands from the ceiling, immobile. Underneath them is a nightgown, a prosthetic leg sporting a red stocking, a pot without a bottom, a shabby fox fur and a silver-coloured serving tray. All of these cast-offs are affixed via a suspended ceiling to camshafts and nine lever arms connected to a motor that is switched on by a timer. Suddenly and without warning, this sad array of consumer refuse bursts into explosive and spastic motion before the eyes of the non-suspecting observer, shaking and gyrating chaotically. The individual shapes and materials are dissolved in the high-speed whirl to form an indefinable whole. Accompanying the spectacle is a loud clattering generated by the collisions of the metal objects. Tinguely deliberately deployed the feeling of uncertainty provoked in the viewer and the surprise effect as artistic means of expression. More than hardly any other work of that era, “Ballet des pauvres“ attests to the continual expansion of Jean Tinguely’s artistic vocabulary at the beginning of the 1960s. The movements and materials with which he works become increasingly expressive, wilder and more chaotic, departing significantly from the mainly geometric and constructive reliefs he executed in the 1950s. Tinguely would continue to pursue the idea of unbridled, “free-flowing“ machine sculptures in 1961 with his “Balubas”.