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Jean Tinguely Photo

Jean Tinguely

Swiss Sculptor and Painter

Movements and Styles: Dada, Kinetic Art, Op Art, Postmodernism, Modern Sculpture

Born: May 22, 1925 - Fribourg, Switzerland

Died: August 30, 1991 - Bern, Switzerland

Jean Tinguely Timeline

Important Art by Jean Tinguely

The below artworks are the most important by Jean Tinguely - that both overview the major creative periods, and highlight the greatest achievements by the artist.

Metamechanical Sculpture with Tripod (1954)
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Metamechanical Sculpture with Tripod (1954)

Artwork description & Analysis: Tinguely used the term "Metamechanics" to describe how he set his assemblage sculptures into motion with some form of motor or system of mechanics. The artist's development of this field, otherwise known as Kinetic art, is exemplified by Metamechanical Sculpture with Tripod. In this early example the artist assembles simple, found objects of the type elevated to artistic status by the Dada artists by whom he was influenced earlier. Wire wheels, to which are connected organically-shaped flat cardboard pieces, painted white on one side and black on the other, are strategically intertwined with stick-straight elements in an interlocking system. The assemblage is balanced above an iron tripod, whose legs echo the linearity of the straight elements assembled above, and the whole fragile assemblage is set into motion. The piece stands nearly 7 feet tall, making its effect quite impressive.

The idea to put assemblages such as this into movement was significant as it evoked an interactive relationship between the spectator and the object. No longer looking at a static collection from a fixed point but instead, moving around in order to get a better look at which parts of the construction were moving, the spectator's experience was actually integrated into the overall effect of the work itself.

Interestingly enough, although the work seems to laud the overall effect of mechanization, by expanding its effect on the spectator, there is some suggestion that instead, it exhibits Dada skepticism regarding the potential of technology to improve human life. By taking on human aspects, simulating limbs that move, for example, the mechanized assemblage itself challenges the concept that machines are necessarily superior to human beings, questioning whether mechanization is actually progress.

Steel, plastic, cardboard, mechanical motor - Tate Collection

Metamatic, no. 17 (1959)
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Metamatic, no. 17 (1959)

Artwork description & Analysis: Metamatic, no. 17 was created especially for the 1959 Paris Biennale. It is a sculptural work composed of a number of differently-shaped found objects, primarily black metal wires, wheels, belts, cogs and crank-shafts - all driven by a small engine. When mechanized, the elements - irregular in nature - rotate in different directions and at varying speeds; their movement is bumpy and jagged.

This work is an excellent example of Tinguely's Kinetic artwork and pushes even further his interest in involving the spectator. The viewer is invited to choose a drawing tool (color, charcoal, or pencil) and place it in the special holder mounted on the assemblage. Paper can be seen cascading down the side of the structure, suspended from above an elevated section of the work. When put into motion, the turning wheels would activate the chosen drawing tool, moving it along a piece of paper. The result would be a work of art in itself. The artwork created was of a necessarily unforeseen nature, differing each and every time, and directly affected by the random movement of the asymmetrical mechanical device.

Tinguely's Metamatic, no. 17 altered the already challenging nature of his earlier metamechanical works by introducing a product directly affected by the spectator. No longer just watching a process, the viewer, by choosing an artistic instrument, plays a role in the creation of an entirely new work of art. In effect, the artist's work challenged the centuries-old tradition of artistic creation: taking part of the art-making out of the hands of the artist and placing it in those of the spectator. Beyond blurring the line of the role of the artist/viewer, here we see the beginnings of interactive art, a practice that is now highlighted by dozens of artists and takes center stage at many museums.

- De Lairesse, Amsterdam

Homage to New York (1960)
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Homage to New York (1960)

Artwork description & Analysis: On March 18, 1960, Tinguely unveiled what would later be considered his most famous work in the sculpture garden of the Museum of Modern Art in New York. A number of artists and engineers collaborated on the project, including Robert Rauschenberg. The massive sculpture stood twenty-seven feet tall, was twenty-three feet wide, and was painted primarily white. Built out of various pieces of metal, bicycle parts, self-operating motors, a go-cart, a bathtub, a piano, all jutting out into space at odd angles and creating an absolute tangle of abstract forms. The original idea was to set the mechanized elements into motion, allow the audience to watch and figure out its changing path of movement, and then set off an explosion that would destroy it. The work was to be a masterpiece of self-destructing Kinetic art. However, 27 minutes into the premiere, one of the processes within the moving parts misfired and sparked a flame that engulfed the entire machine in a blazing fire. The spectacle to which this esteemed audience (including the Governor of New York) was subjected became as much a part of the artistic experience as the original work itself.

The launch of this intricate, self-destructing sculpture changed the nature of Tinguely's oeuvre. Although he had already harnessed active viewer interaction in his Metamatics, this work's significance was to be even further enhanced by the experience of being present as it self-destructed. In total, the work was to assume an alternative symbolism, suggesting, for example the organic nature of New York City - known for both destruction and reconstruction, exhaustion and renewal.

A "fragment" of the original sculpture exists in the permanent collection of the MOMA.

Found objects, motorized elements - Museum of Modern Art

Santana Bascule (1966)
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Santana Bascule (1966)

Artwork description & Analysis: In Tinguely's Santana Bascule a thick, flat black wooden wheel attached at a point to a thin semi-circular metal piece take center stage. This sculpture is balanced by a special pedestal made of a compilation of concave metal strips that rocks from side-to-side while hurling around the central elements in an unpredictable fashion. This work differs from the artist's earlier assemblages by abandoning the more colorful found-objects, previously seen in works by Dada artists and restricting itself to an entirely black palette. The result is a far more austere, minimalistic work. The resultant movement is also more focused in nature, limited to the pivot beneath and the spinning wheel above. Like his other mechanized assemblages this one again serves as commentary on the debate regarding the effects of mechanization on modern society.

Metal, wood, mechanical motor - Bechtler Museum of Modern Art, Charlotte, NC

Stravinsky Fountain (1983)
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Stravinsky Fountain (1983)

Artwork description & Analysis: The artistic cooperation between Jean Tinguely and Niki de Saint Phalle resulted in some of the most intriguing artworks of the modernist movement. Stravinsky Fountain is an example of their successful collaboration. Located directly above the archive of Igor Stravinsky's compositions, housed in the IRCAM offices (Research Center for Contemporary Music) underground beneath the fountain, the work necessitated a specifically lightweight construction. Devoted to the composer's musical compositions, this fountain praises the achievements of creativity outside of mechanization. Completed in 1983, it features sixteen sculptural works erected above a shallow basin. Tinguely's mechanized black iron elements, many squirting water, are placed alongside, under and between Saint Phalle's more light-hearted, brightly painted, organic elements in a manner that supports but never overwhelms. They work together to create a contrapuntal rhythm, like that found in musical compositions.

Tinguely intended for the multiple elements to stick up above the surface of the water and "perform" like figures in a circus. Throughout his later years, Tinguely continued to design assemblages that specifically interacted with sources of water. Saint Phalle's use of extremely bold colors and a charismatic sense of levity on inflated anatomical elements and animal motifs characterizes her mature oeuvre.

Metal, fiberglass and various mechanical elements - Public work in Place Stravinsky, Paris, France

Cascade (1991)
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Cascade (1991)

Artwork description & Analysis: Cascade is a massive 40-foot mixed media sculpture, suspended above an inlaid fountain in the main lobby of the Carillon office tower in Charlotte, NC. This motorized mobile is obviously influenced by those made famous earlier by Alexander Calder. Tinguely encountered his work first in Paris and was delighted to exhibit alongside him at the Galerie Denise Rene in 1955. Calder provided inspiration for a generation of sculptors interested in Kinetic art.

Cascade features an array of found objects that slowly rotate around one another. Included are antlers, a car hood, various light bulbs, planks of wood and metal pieces. The variety, color, and haphazard nature of the collected objects suggest a return to the artist's original interest in the Dada aesthetic. Here he abandons the more subdued and minimalistic assemblage which characterized his works mid-career.

The use of numerous, interlaid mechanisms creates a busy experience for the viewer. Affecting both those who've come specifically to view the project or those walking through the corporate office building on their way to work, the assemblage reaches different strata of society. This work was commissioned by Tinguely's loyal patron, the Bechtler family, and was the last created before his death in 1991.

Various found objects, metal, wood and mechanical motors - Carillon Office Tower, Charlotte, NC

Le Cyclop (1969 -1994)
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Le Cyclop (1969 -1994)

Artwork description & Analysis: Tinguely began construction on Le Cyclop in 1969 at the Milly-la-Forêt (Milly Forest) in France. Although it's nominally a one-eyed cyclop of the kind found in Greek mythology, it's actually composed of multiple whimsical elements which negate any lingering feeling of the horror associated with its name. Included are staircases, mezzanines, and passageways; its tongue is a sliding board (almost a children's slide), which ends in a pool of water.

In the beginning, the idea was that there would be no architect or blueprint for the work other than a small model Tinguely had created in 1970. The completed structure, which eventually stood 74 feet high and weighed 350 tons, was to be an example of aesthetic collaboration by a number of artists. Like other of Tinguely's projects, its realization stretched out over the course of years, 25 to be precise, and combined the creative genius of more than ten of artists, including Arman, Cesar, Daniel Spoerri, Bernhard Luginbuhl, and Niki de Saint Phalle. Their contributions, enhancing and altering quite significantly Tinguely's original idea, include a mirrored mosaic by Saint Phalle, a huge flipper (whose activation demands two spectators) by Bernhard Luginbuhl, and a sculptural work devoted to the subject of the deportation by XXX.

Le Cyclop invites viewers to experience its numerous nooks and crannies, whether visiting the theater where the brain of the cyclop's head should be, exploring the machinery of scrap iron gears or simply making their way through the maze-like interior. The experience of the viewer is not limited to an assessment of the parts assembled but instead, includes his journey through, around and inside of the large sculpture as a whole.

Concrete, iron and a mirrored mosaic facade - Public work in Milly-la-Forêt, France



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Jean Tinguely Photo

Related Art and Artists

Fountain (1917)
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Fountain (1917)

Artist: Marcel Duchamp

Artwork description & Analysis: The most notorious of the readymades, Fountain was submitted to the 1917 Society of Independent Artists under the pseudonym R. Mutt. The initial R stood for Richard, French slang for "moneybags" whereas Mutt referred to JL Mott Ironworks, the New York-based company, which manufactured the porcelain urinal. After the work had been rejected by the Society on the grounds that it was immoral, critics who championed it disputed this claim, arguing that an object was invested with new significance when selected by an artist for display. Testing the limits of what constitutes a work of art, Fountain staked new grounds. What started off as an elaborate prank designed to poke fun at American avant-garde art, proved to be one of most influential artworks of the 20th century.

Urinal - Philadelphia Museum of Art

Indestructible Object (or Object to Be Destroyed) (1923)
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Indestructible Object (or Object to Be Destroyed) (1923)

Artist: Man Ray

Artwork description & Analysis: Man Ray re-created this work multiple times after making the original. The piece was first intended as a silent witness in Ray's studio - watching him paint. In the second version, which was published in the avant-garde journal This Quarter, in 1932, Ray substituted the eye of Lee Miller, his former lover, after she left him and married a successful Egyptian businessman. He wanted to attack Miller by "breaking her up" in his works that feature her, and thus this second version, called Object of Destruction, was accompanied by the following instructions: "Cut out the eye from a photograph of one who has been loved but is seen no more. Attach the eye to the pendulum of a metronome and regulate the weight to suit the tempo desired. Keep going to the limit of endurance. With a hammer well-aimed, try to destroy the whole at a single blow." At an exhibition in 1957, a group of students followed the instructions and destroyed the object. It was later reconstructed and made into multiples using the money Man Ray received from the insurance. He renamed the work Indestructible Object.

Metronome with cutout photograph of eye on pendulum - The Museum of Modern Art, New York

Merzpicture 46A. The Skittle Picture (1921)
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Merzpicture 46A. The Skittle Picture (1921)

Movement: Dada

Artist: Kurt Schwitters

Artwork description & Analysis: This is an early example of assemblage in which two and three dimensional objects are combined. The word "Merz," which Schwitters used to describe his art practice as well as his individual pieces, is a nonsensical word, like Dada, that Schwitters culled from the word "commerz", the meaning of which he described as follows: "In the war, things were in terrible turmoil. What I had learned at the academy was of no use to me.... Everything had broken down and new things had to be made out of the fragments; and this is Merz". In his Merzpictures, which have been called "psychological collages," he arranged found objects - usually detritus - in simple compositions that transformed trash into beautiful works of art. Whether the materials were string, a ticket stub, or a chess piece, Schwitters considered them to be equal with any traditional art material. Merz, however, is not ideological, dogmatic, hostile, or political as is much of Dada art.

Assemblage of wood, oil, metal, board on board, with artist's frame - National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC

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