In 1951 Tinguely moved to Paris where he joined Robert Rauschenberg's
International Happenings. In 1954 he had his own first solo show
at the Galerie Arnaux. He exhibited works at the 1959 Paris Biennale and
associated himself with the new art group ZERO. Zero started in post-war
Germany, where the notion of a 'usable' past was bitterly remote.
The artists wanted to distance themselves
from recent German history, and thus declared a starting point of zero.
Otto Piene pioneered the group, which soon moved throughout Europe, embracing
artists like Tinguely and Klein and also Italian artists Lucio Fontana
and Piero Manzoni. The movement shared many similarities to American Minimalism
which was popular at the time. Meanwhile, Tinguely had also joined the
modern art group Nouveau
Realisme (New Realism) founded in 1960 by Pierre Restany and the
painter Yves Klein. Inspired by Dada,
Nouveau Realisme is seen (by the French) as a forerunner of Pop
Art. Other members included Martial Raysse, Pierre Restany, Raymond
Hains, Niki de Saint Phalle, Gérard Deschamps and the artist Christo.
It was arguably one of the first movements of postmodernist
In 1961 Tinguely married the artist Niki de Saint-Phalle, with whom he
collaborated on numerous projects, including a climbable female sculpture
Hon (1966, Moderna Museet, Stockholm) and the Stravinsky Fountain
(1983, Pompidou Centre forecourt). Tinguely first achieved serious recognition
with his self-destructing sculptures (see below), and his monumental works
for urban settings. The latter were welded together from scrap metal,
and seemed to pay homage to the decline of the 19th steam engine. In 1970
he created Le Cyclop, a giant walk-in structure created with Bernhard
Luginbühl, Larry Rivers, Niki de Saint Phalle and Daniel Spoerri.
Note About Sculpture Appreciation
To learn how to evaluate modernist kinetic sculptors like Jean Tinguely,
see: How to Appreciate
Modern Sculpture. For earlier works, please see: How
to Appreciate Sculpture.
Self Destructing Sculptures
Tinguely also experimented with sculptures that were designed to explode,
thus pioneering a type of performance
art. His most celebrated "event" was his self-destructing
installation, known as Homage to New York (1960) which, after extensive
negotiation, the Museum of Modern Art in New York agreed to have inaugurated
in its sculpture garden on March 17, 1960. Homage was a giant motorized
junk assemblage which included a weather balloon, a klaxon horn, fifty
bicycle wheels, a piano, chemicals that emitted horrible smells and smoke
at some unpredictable moment, and motors. Tinguely painted the entire
construction white because, as he confided to Peter Selz (the curator
in charge), he wanted the Homage to be so beautiful that people
would be dismayed when it began to destroy itself (which it was designed
to do). The Museum gave him use of the Buckminster Fuller dome, located
in the garden, and he worked under there in the chilling New York weather
for three weeks. Dr. Richard Huelsenbeck, the Berlin dadaist who had subsequently
become a psychiatrist in New York, introduced Tinguely to a crowd of like-minded
postmodernist artists, including
Rauschenberg, Stankiewicz, and Chamberlain, to cheer him on. Robert
Rauschenberg even produced a machine that threw money, to be set off
as part of the event.
The night of the inauguration was cold
and drizzly. Watched by the Governor of New York along with various
dignitaries and socialites in black tie, Tinguely started the machine.
By accident he had attached the belt backwards on the paper roll for
the painting machine; it immediately rolled the paper up and began flapping
instead of making "automatic" drawings (see Automatism
in Art). From there the whole contraption took on an unpredictable
life of its own, like all Tinguely machines. It created a tremendous
din and flames began to emerge from the piano, where a can of gasoline
had been set to overturn on a burning candle. Then, as Calvin Tomkins
recounted it, a "small carriage suddenly shot out from under the
piano, its klaxon shrieking, and smoke and flames pouring from its rear
end. It headed straight for the audience, bounced off a photographer's
bag, and rammed into a ladder on which a correspondent for Paris-Match
was standing; he courageously descended, turned it around, and sent
it scuttling into the NBC sound equipment." Things got sufficiently
out of control to frighten museum officials, who visualized the entire
building catching fire, and called in firemen to quench the blaze.
In the end, the public were invited to
study the remnants and take parts home as a souvenir. These works paid
homage to a city that has an ability to constantly renew itself. In 1962
Study for an End of the World No. 2, blew up in the presence of
an audience in the desert in Nevada. La Vittoria, was a giant golden
phallus which exploded in front of Milan Cathedral, marking the 10th anniversary
of the Nouveaux Realistes. The popularity of Tinguely's work owed much
to his underlying wit, charm and irony.
Tinguely's most famous work is perhaps his Stravinsky Fountain
(also called the Fontaine des Automates), on Place Stravinsky, which he
created with Niki de Saint-Phalle. It was created in 1980, and is situated
just outside of Pompidou Centre
in Paris. It features 16 whimsical moving and water-spraying sculptures,
which represent themes and works by the composer Stravinsky. By now acclaimed
as one of the great abstract sculptors,
during the 1980s Tinguely continued to create sculpture groups, fountains
and arrange exhibitions. He died in Bern in 1991.
Tinguely's modernist assemblage and avant-garde
contraptions can be seen in some of the top
galleries of contemporary art in Europe.