Jean Tinguely
Year, Birthplace 1925, Switzerland
Year, Place of death 1991
From the age of 12 to 14 Jean Tinguely became intrigued by the construction of mills on the outskirts of Basel, where he lived: water from a stream would drive a wheel equipped with a cam, causing hammers to strike tin cans. This was the beginning of a lifelong passion. From 1941 to 1943, he was a decorator’s apprentice and attended – albeit infrequently – classes in applied arts at the Kunstgewerbeschule in Basel, interested purely in working with materials. From 1944 till the end of 1952, when he left for France, he worked as a decorator in Basel and Zurich. During this period, he created moving structures in wire and investigated the dematerialisation of objects moving at great speed. He created black boxes, on which he arranged geometric elements, in the style of paintings by Malevich. Motors created movement in the pieces, which he called Méta-Maleviches. At this time, he met and became friends with Daniel Spoerri. He presented the results of his experiments – the Méta-Matics – for the first time in 1954, at the Galerie Arnaud in Paris and at the Studio d’Architettura b24 in Milan. Tinguely belonged to a generation of artists interested in movement and thus participated in exhibitions of kinetic and optical art at the Galerie Denise René (solo show in 1956). He exhibited his Reliefs Sonores [Sound Reliefs], at the Salon des Réalités Nouvelles [New Realities Salon], in 1955, where he met Yves Klein. The same year, his first Relief Méta-mécanique Sonore [Meta-mechanic Sound Relief] – exhibited at the Samlaren Gallery in Stockholm – led to the Méta-Kandinsky and Méta-Herbin series, among others, which reinterpreted and mocked the compositional principles of those painters. At the Galerie Iris Clert in Paris, in 1958, Tinguely presented Mes Étoiles, concert pour sept peintures [My stars: concert for seven paintings]: viewers activated forms in relief, producing sounds. The following year, he exhibited drawing machines (again at the same gallery). His imposing Méta-Matic n?17 produced 40,000 drawings at the 1959 Biennale des jeunes, in Paris, where it caused a sensation. Over the following years, Tinguely created happenings and performances. His best known was Homage to New York, a mechanical sculpture which self-destructed, in March 1960, in the MoMA garden. During this first period in the United States, he exhibited at the Staempfli Gallery and met Roberto Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns. The spirit of dadaism is evident in Tinguely’s work, in the provocative antics and mockery that characterise these pieces. The artist questions the cult of progress of the consumer society by constructing deliberately imperfect ‘machines’ using salvaged objects which are the antithesis of the industrial object produced by society. Tinguely mocks the very act of creation itself. In October 1960, he was one of the founders of the Nouveaux Réalistes group, with Arman, François Dufrêne, Raymond Hains, Yves Klein, Jacques Villeglé, Martial Raysse and Daniel Spoerri, guided by the critic Pierre Restany. Together with Niki Saint Phalle, with whom he began a relationship that year and who later joined the group, Tinguely began to work on collaborative projects, such as an exploding bull for the bullrings of Figueras, during a festival celebrating Dalí (1961). More interventions and exhibitions followed and Tinguely began to receive commissions, such as his eight-metre high sculpture Eurêka, for Expo 64 in Lausanne. In 1963 he began to explore the myth of Sisyphus in his work. Machines, painted black, engaged in repetitive, endless movement, a permanent back-and-forth. In 1970, in Milly-la-Fôret, the artist began creating Cyclop, a monumental outdoor piece, created in collaboration with Bernhard Luginbühl, Larry Rivers, Niki de Saint Phalle, Daniel Spoerri and others. In 1970, during the festival organised to mark the second anniversary of the Nouveaux Réalistes, Tinguely installed La Vittoria – a huge golden phallus, which gradually went up in flames – in front of Milan Cathedral. This was followed by projects such as the series Rotozaza (pieces which play with balls or smash plates and bottles), with its strident criticism of consumer society, and large sculptures created with Niki de Saint Phalle (in Stockholm, in 1966: Nana, a 25-metre high piece which the viewer can enter). In 1983, once again with Saint Phalle, he created Fontaine Stravinsky (Stravinsky Fountain, next to the Centre Pompidou in Paris), which became one of his most well known projects. Numerous retrospectives (such as one in 1988 at the Musée nacional d'art moderne in Paris) and international prizes followed. There is a museum dedicated to the artist in Basel. AC