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
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
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
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