Jean Tinguely

Today’s Artist Birthday: Jean Tinguely

Jean Tinguely (22 May 1925 – 30 August 1991) was a Swiss painter and sculptor. He is best known for his sculptural machines or kinetic art, in the Dada tradition, known officially as Metamechanics. his playful art satirized the mindless overproduction of material goods in advanced industrial society.

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. As a youth he frequented the School of Arts and Crafts, though it seems 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.

He moved to France in 1952 with his first wife, Swiss artist Eva Aeppli, to pursue a career in art. He belonged to the Parisian avant garde in the mid-twentieth century, and there developed his distinctive, mischievous, 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,  Tinguely moved into a studio in the Impasse Ronsin where one of his neighbours is 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 for the first time, kinetic art plays a major role.

mouvement

In 1956, through his affliliations in the Parisian art scene, he meets the artist Yves Klein and the two become great friends. In November of 1958, Tinguely and Klein have 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

In 1959 he scatters copies of his manifesto “Für Statik (For statics)” from an airplane over Düsseldorf.

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 the founder of the group “Nouveaux Réalistes” in Paris, along with Yves Klein and others.

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 Study for an End of the World No. 2, a sculptural ensemble that fully self-destructs before an audience in the desert of Nevada, near Las Vegas, USA. In 1960, he had attempted his first self destructing sculpture, Homage to New York, but the work was not completely destroyed. What remains of that sculpture now resides in the garden of the Museum of Modern Art, New York.

1963-64, he creates 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 that was shown at Moderna Museet in Stockholm. The exhibition consisted of a 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 built of scaffolding and chicken wire covered with fabric and fiberglass, painted with brightly-colored poster paint. Through a door-sized entry in the location of the woman’s vagina, visitors could go into the sculpture. Inside was a screen showing Greta Garbo films, a goldfish pond and a soft drink vending machine. Johann Sebastian Bach’s organ music played through speakers. It had 80,000 visitors during the exhibition period from June 4 to September 9 in 1966.

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).

In 1970, he and his assembled group of friends, create La Vittoria in front of the Milan Cathedral, in Milan, Italy. It is a giant golden phallus which the group 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 tirelessly on fantastical sculptures and progressive exhibitions. His work involved mechanics, skulls, interactivity. His creative flow was at a constant high. That pace 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 unfortunately never recovered, and died there 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 makes the rounds of Basel every year on “Tinguely Tag,” or “Tinguely Day,” remembering him on the anniversary of his death.


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

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