The Artist Birthday Series

Jean Tinguely

Today’s Artist Birthday: Jean Tinguely

Jean Tinguely (22 May 1925 – 30 August 1991) was an artist who worked in the Dada tradition, best known for his mechanical sculpture work, also known as kinetic art. He called his creations “Metamechanics,” which playfully mocked mass consumerism and the overproduction of material goods.

Jean Tinguely, 1976, in Basel. [Photo by: Helen Sager]
Jean Tinguely, 1976, in Basel. [Photo by: Helen Sager]
Born in Fribourg, Switzerland, Tinguely grew up in Basel. He attended the School of Arts and Crafts, though records indicate that he was not terribly fond of consistent attendance. He later had an apprenticeship as a decorator, until 1947 when he begins to spend a lot of time in the circle of the Basel anarchist Heiner Koechlin.

Heiner Koechlin, c.1960

In 1952 he moved to France with his first wife, Swiss artist Eva Aeppli, to pursue a career in art. They immersed themselves in the Parisian avant garde scene throughout the mid-twentieth century, and there he developed his distinctive, mischievous, and whimsical style.

Images of Eva Aeppli and Jean Tinguely, 1958 in Paris
Images of Eva Aeppli and Jean Tinguely, 1958 in Paris

At the beginning of 1955,  he moved into a studio in the Impasse Ronsin where one of his neighbors was the sculptor Constantin Brancusi. Later that same year, Tinguely takes part in the exhibition Le Mouvement at the Galerie Denise René in Paris, together with Pol Bury, Soto, Calder, Vasarely, Duchamp and other artists, where the concept of kinetic art plays a major role for the first time.

mouvement

In 1956, through his network of connections in the Parisian art scene, he meets the brilliant young artist Yves Klein, and the two quickly became great friends. In November of 1958, Tinguely and Klein collaborated on a joint exhibition entitled Vitesse pure et stabilité monochrome, at the Galerie Iris Clert.

 

Jean Tinguely and Yves Klein, 1958
Jean Tinguely and Yves Klein, 1958
Tinguely and Klein, 1958

In 1959 in grand style, he scatters copies of his manifesto “Für Statik (For statics)” from an airplane over Düsseldorf, promoting the idea “Everything moves. Standstill does not exist …”.

Jean Tinguely, above the skies of Düsseldorf, about to scatter copies of his manifesto on the city below.
Jean Tinguely, above the skies of Düsseldorf, about to scatter copies of his manifesto on the city below. 1959

In October of 1960, he is one of the founders of the group “Nouveaux Réalistes” in Paris. Headed up by Klein, the group sets its goal as exploring new ways of perceiving reality. Aside Tinguely and Klein, the initial members were Arman, Martial Raysse, Pierre Restany, Daniel Spoerri, Francois Dufrêne, Raymond Hains, Jacques de la Villeglé. The following year, they were joined by César, Mimmo Rotella, Niki de Saint Phalle, and Gérard Deschamps.

Jean Tinguely (far left) Niki and unidentified man, shooting paint at a nearly finished work, 1961 [photo: Shunk-Kender; © 2008 Niki Charitable Art Foundation, all rights reserved / VG Bild-Kunst Bonn 2012; photo © Roy Lichtenstein Foundation, Shunk-Kender]
Jean Tinguely (far left) Niki de Saint Phalle, and unidentified man, shooting paint at a nearly finished work, 1961 [photo: Shunk-Kender; © 2008 Niki Charitable Art Foundation, all rights reserved / VG Bild-Kunst Bonn 2012; photo © Roy Lichtenstein Foundation, Shunk-Kender]
In 1962 he completes his spectacular Study for an End of the World No. 2, a sculptural ensemble that completely self-destructs before an audience in the desert of Nevada, outside Las Vegas, USA. Earlier in 1960, he had attempted his first self destructing sculpture, Homage to New York, but the work did not completely self-destruct. What remains of that sculpture now resides in the garden of the Museum of Modern Art, New York.

1963-64, he created the monumental sculpture Heureka for the Expo 64 in Lausanne, Switzerland.

"Heureka," by Jean Tinguely, Basel, Switzerland. Created 19
“Heureka,” by Jean Tinguely, Basel, Switzerland. Created 1963-4

In 1966, Tinguely, along with Niki de Saint-Phalle and Per Olof Ultvedt, created the Hon-en-Katedrall (sometimes spelled “Hon-en-Katedral“) art installation exhibited at Moderna Museet in Stockholm. The work was a large scale sculpture of a colorful pregnant woman lying on her back with her legs wide apart. The sculpture was 25–26 meters long, about 6 meters high and 11 meters wide. It was constructed of scaffolding and chicken wire, covered with fabric and fiberglass, then painted with brightly-colored poster paint. Visitors would enter the work through an opening in the location of the woman’s vagina, returning to the womb, as it were. Once inside, they were to find a screen showing Greta Garbo films, a goldfish pond and a soft drink vending machine, all the while being entertained by the music of Johann Sebastian Bach, played through hidden speakers. The piece was exhibited from June 4 to September 9 in 1966, and during that time had over 80,000 visitors.

Installation of "Hon-en-Katedrall," Tinguely
Installation of “Hon-en-Katedrall,” created by Jean Tinguely, with Niki de Saint-Phalle, and Per Olof Ultvedt (pictured right to left).

One of his most celebrated works was created in 1970, when he and a group of friends create La Vittoria in front of the Milan Cathedral, in Milan, Italy. It was a giant golden phallus which, with much pomp and circumstance, burns to the ground as part of the festival celebrating the 10th anniversary of the Nouveaux Réalistes.

la vittoria 1
Phase 1 of “La Vittoria,” by Jean Tinguely, celebrating the 10 year anniversary of the Nouveaux Réalistes, a group he founded in 1960 with the delightful Yves Klein, and others.
la vittoria 2
Phase 2 & 3 of “La Vittoria,” by Jean Tinguely. The sculpture is revealed and then set on fire. The event was to celebrate the 10 year anniversary of the Nouveaux Réalistes, a group he founded in 1960 with the delightful Yves Klein, and others.
la vittoria 3
Phase 4 of “La Vittoria,” by Jean Tinguely. The sculpture had been set on fire and now remains only the frame. The event was to celebrate the 10 year anniversary of the Nouveaux Réalistes, a group he founded in 1960 with the delightful Yves Klein, and others.

In 1971, Tinguely married his second wife, his long time creative partner, Niki de Saint Phalle.

Niki de Saint Phalle and Jean Tinguely, 1966
Niki de Saint Phalle and Jean Tinguely, 1966

From the 1970’s until 1991, Tinguely worked continuously on his complicated and fantastical sculptures and exhibitions. His creative flow was intense and prolific, however the near-frantic pace of his creation may have taken its toll however.

Jean Tinguely in his studio, 1981
Jean Tinguely in his studio, 1981

On August 18, 1991 Jean Tinguely suffered a stroke and was taken to the Inselspital Hospital in Berne. He resisted death for nearly two weeks, but unfortunately never recovered. He would succumb to the complications of the stroke and passed away on August 30, at the young age of 66 years.Tinguely01

His funeral was held on September 4, 1991 in Basel. His 1979 tractor-like and drivable sculpture entitled “Klamauk,” was part of his funeral procession. That same sculpture still makes the rounds of Basel on “Tinguely Tag,” or “Tinguely Day,” a annual celebration of his life, remembering him each year on the anniversary of his death.


tinguely by vera isler, 1990
“Playing is art. So I am playing.”

Jean Tinguely

digital collage portrait created by 
Terri Maxfield Lipp
May 22, 2017


References:


See an error? Click here to send corrections


Originally posted May 22, 2016
Updated on May 22, 2017 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *