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Tinguely, Jean

A Dictionary of Modern and Contemporary Art

Ian Chilvers,

John Glaves-Smith

Tinguely, Jean (1925–91) 

Swiss sculptor and Kinetic artist. He was born in Fribourg and studied at the Basle School of Fine Arts, 1941–5. In 1952 he settled in Paris, then after a year in Düsseldorf moved to New York in 1960. Tinguely's work was concerned mainly with movement and the machine, satirizing technological civilization. His boisterous humour was most fully demonstrated in his auto-destructive works (see Metzger), which turned Kinetic art into Performance art. The most famous was Homage to New York, presented at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, on 17 March 1960. The object on which the work was based was constructed of an old piano and other junk; it failed to destroy itself as programmed and caused a fire. Tinguely was an innovator not only in his combination of Kineticism with Junk sculpture, but also in the impetus he gave to the idea of spectator participation, as in his Cyclograveur, in which the spectator mounts a saddle and pedals a bicycle, causing a steel nail to strike against a vertically mounted flat surface, and the Rotozazas, in which the spectator plays ball with a machine. Such works have been interpreted as ironic ridicule of the practical functions of machines. Satire in his work was also directed against the art world. In 1959, the year which saw the consecration in Paris of informal gestural abstraction, Tinguely produced his Metamatic machines for turning out ‘spontaneous’ gestural abstractions to order. A close friend of Yves Klein, he became part of the Nouveau Réalisme group in 1960. Tinguely's most famous work is the exuberant Beaubourg Fountain (1983) outside the Pompidou Centre, Paris, done in collaboration with his wife, Niki de Saint Phalle; it features fantastic mechanical birds and beasts that spout water in all directions.

Further Reading

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