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Indepth Arts News:

"L'Esprit de Tinguely"
2000-05-20 until 2000-10-03
Wolfsburg Museum
Wolfsburg, , DE Germany

Ever since its very first exhibition, which was Fernand Léger and the Spirit of the Age of Industry, the Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg has taken a special interest in the relationship between art and modern industrial society. The machine sculptures of the Swiss sculptor Jean Tinguely (1925-91) are at one and the same time creative, unproductive, and destructive. Applying irony to technology, Tinguely devised radical and unerringly accurate images to express the problematic relationship between people and technological progress in a postindustrial society.

After the retrospective at the Palazzo Grassi in Venice in 1987 the exhibition L'Esprit de Tinguely is the first major showing of Tinguely's work since his death, with the exception of the permanent collection on display at the Museum Jean Tinguely in Basel.

Organized in collaboration with the Museum Jean Tinguely, Basel, the exhibition aims to rediscover Tinguely as an artist whose mentality, strategies, and concepts hold undiminished significance at the turn of the twenty-first century. It is designed not as a retrospective in the traditional sense but as a structured exploration of Tinguely's major themes and of the evolution of his work.

From his first 'Métamatic' drawing machines to his large environmental sculptures, Tinguely always worked to activate and involve the viewer, who is expected to abandon his or her traditional, rather contemplative approach to the artwork in favor of a state of curiosity and wonderment that leads directly to action. Tinguely ensures that action is triggered at an early stage in the process.

The viewer can set Tinguely's machines in motion by pushing a button: a deliberate allusion to the easy-to-operate technologies of daily life. This viewer involvement was also present in the individual and collective experience of those events in which Tinguely set out to blur the frontiers between art and life as when, in 1960, he put wheels on his sculptures and paraded them through the center of Paris, escorted by friends and under the wary eye of the police. The photographs and videos of such events in this exhibition are a reminder of Tinguely's unconventional approach to art. They bear witness to the playful, even anarchic spirit of his work.

This same spirit was evident in Tinguely's spectacular performance pieces.

These ambitious events, in which the artist destroyed his own newly made machines, took place both inside and outside the art context. Documentary records of such events as 'Homage to New York' (1960), in the garden of The Museum of Modern Art, New York; 'Study for an End of the World 1' (1961), at the Louisiana Museum, Humlebaek; and Study for an 'End of the World 2' (1962), in the Nevada desert near Las Vegas, are shown on large screens in a specially constructed viewing space.

Tinguely never tied himself down to a single form of presentation. He adopted a direct language of imagery that burst open the narrow confines of the art world. Tinguely designed restaurants, used the modern mass media, and went to automobile races. His was an approach that has a great deal of present-day relevance, as may be seen if it is compared with that of, say, the young British artist Damien Hirst.

Like Hirst, Tinguely found the world of galleries and museums too small for him.

In pursuit of direct intervention in life through art, Tinguely relied on collaborative work and a diversity of artistic skills. The libertarian, anarchistic aspect of his work, his challenge to society at large, is particularly evident in those projects that lead to a synthesis of genres: a Gesamtkunstwerk or Total Artwork. In collaboration with such artists as Daniel Spoerri, Niki de Saint-Phalle, and Bernhard Luginbühl, he created culture stations: complex environments built, either inside a museum ('Dylaby', 'Hon'), or away from one ('Gigantoleum', 'Le Cyclop'), to give visitors a theme-park experience by appealing to as many as possible of their senses and interests.

For the first time ever, the giant environmental sculpture made by Tinguely and his friends in the Forest of Fontainebleau in the 1970s, 'Le Cyclop', will be transported into the exhibition space through the medium of large-screen video projection.

Throughout his life, Tinguely was fascinated by speed as the most extreme form of motion. For him speed was something that contained and balanced life and death. 'Be static with motion' was his interpretation of the challenge of achieving both individual freedom and social change. Not that his attitude was exclusively optimistic: Tinguely well knew the dangers of technological progress. Both motion and destruction are fundamental to his sculptures. The exhibit includes a number of works directly inspired by automobile and motorcycle racing, including bodywork and overalls specially designed by Tinguely for sidecar races. Other sculptures, such as 'Schreckenskarette - Viva Ferrari' (1985) and 'Lola T. 180 - Memorial to Joakim B.' (1988), testify to Tinguely's awareness that mortal danger is the flip side of the beauty and speed of racing cars.

In 1979 Tinguely devised a automotive sculpture, 'Klamauk'. Emitting smoke, sound, and fireworks, this tractor has raced in a number of hill climbs, and will be on view in Wolfsburg.

The exhibition will be accompanied by a richly illustrated book with a preface by Gijs van Tuyl; articles by Margrit Hahnloser, Andres Pardey, Ad Petersen and Annelie Lütgens; interviews with Pontus Hulten, Daniel Spoerri, Bernhard Luginbühl, and Niki de Saint-Phalle; and statements by Jean Tinguely, together with numerous historic documentary photographs. Format 22 x 16 cm, app. 350 pages, app. 300 illustrations in color and in monochrome, price app. 58,– DM

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