Utopia is 8 metres tall, 17 metres long, and a good 8 metres wide. It is assembled out of numerous wooden wheels in various sizes and colours, its heaviest element being the large red wooden wheel in the middle, which alone weighs come 600 kg. Josef Imhof, the artist’s erstwhile assistant, reported that Tinguely had initially planned to create a large relief, and to achieve the desired height had attached various steps and ladders that were to have been removed later on. In the course of his work, however, Tinguely decided to leave the steps going up and down and even installed additional platforms and stairs. Thus, the artist’s first and only walk-in machine sculpture was created.
When building Utopia, Tinguely had at his disposal the premises of a disused foundry, Von Roll AG near Olten, including a working gantry crane. The majority of the forty plus wheels that he discovered there are models that the foundry had used for making casts – almost all of them in the original colour – which Tinguely was allowed to use. As Utopia was built for an exhibition in Venice (1987), it features a number of elements relating to the city on the lagoon. Utopia was in fact the centrepiece of the Tinguely retrospective in Venice and hence was given pride of place in the courtyard of the palazzo.