60 years of performance art in Switzerland museum Tinguely, 20.09.2017 - 28.01.2018
Prod. Ray Marsh, colour film, sound
Responding to an invitation by US broadcaster NBC, which is reporting on the risk of atomic war in the wake of the Cuba crisis, Jean Tinguely, assisted by Niki de Saint-Phalle, constructs a pyrotechnic sculpture that plays out against the Nevada backdrop.
A turning point in Tinguely's artistic output is the destructive action Homage to New York, which Tinguely stages on 17 March 1960 in the sculpture garden of the Museum of Modern Art. It is the first self-destructive artwork ever.
PerformanceProcess Paris, Centre culturel suisse 18.09-13.12.15
Silkscreen and documents extracted from the portfolio, Sergio Tosi publisher, Milan, 1970
Presented in the Focus Jean Tinguely
Le Transport, extract from the movie Svenska flickor i Paris, 1960, 1'32'', film, directed by Barbo Borman
Homage to Jean Tinguely's Homage to New-York, 1960, 10', film 16 mm, directed by Robert Breer, courtesy gb agency, Paris
Breaking it up at the Museum – Homage to New York, 1960, 7', film, directed by Donn Alan Pennebaker
Study for an end of the world no. 2, 1962, 21'27'', film, David Brinkley's Journal, 04.04.1962, NBC, New York, directed by Ray Marsh
(1925 – 1991)
With his self-destructing machines, Tinguely cleared a new path between sculpture and performance. On 17 March 1960, Homage to New York shook the gardens of the MoMA. For the first time, Tinguely used intangible materials such as light, air, water, fire and smoke as well as motors, bicycle and pushchair wheels, a weather balloon, steel tubes, a piano and various pieces of junk. The sculpture consisted of a system involving about a hundred processes. On 21 March 1962, Tinguely presented Study for an End of the World no.2 at Jean Dry Lake in the Nevada Desert south of Las Vegas. The operation was filmed and broadcast on David Brinkley's news programme on NBC, on 4 April 1962. The AP and UPI news agencies, the Saturday Evening Post, Time, and Life were also present. This end-of-the-world performance required a convoy of a dozen trucks containing equipment, 100 sticks of dynamite, and 20,000 fireworks. La Vittoria, a monumental phallus standing in front of Milan Cathedral in November 1970 and “ejaculating” fire and fireworks, was another memorable intervention. As was Le Transport, a “wild” parade of machines in the streets of Paris on 13 May 1960, between his studio in the Impasse Ronsin and the Galerie des 4 Saisons where his exhibition was being held.
Painter, sculptor and draughtsman Jean Tinguely was no less a highly influential performance artist. ...
Painter, sculptor and draughtsman Jean Tinguely was no less a highly influential performance artist.
“It was as real, interested, complicated and gay as life itself”, remarked Robert Rauschenberg after the half-hour performance Homage to New York (HtNY), featuring a self-destructing machine, on 17 March 1960 in the gardens of the MoMA. Jean Tinguely himself did not consider the first self-destructing artwork in history to be an allegory of destruction, but instead as a symbol of “a very intense life” that consumes itself in a “grandiose spectacle”, as he said, brandishing a soldering iron, in an interview for Donn Alan Pennebaker’s documentary on HtNY.
Still today, Jean Tinguely is not really known as an artist who did performances or staged happenings, or as a stage performer. With his objects in relief and his kinetic sculptures, he wanted to counter the tiresomely repetitive output of the Geometric Abstraction movement. As far back as 1954, his works were already “subjects” tending towards dialogue and action. They invited participation, and demanded to be integrated completely into daily life. An example is the exhibition Le Mouvement at the Denise René Gallery, Paris, in 1955 where, as we see in Robert Breer’s documentary, Tinguely’s Sculpture méta-mécanique automobile (1954) juddered along between the works of Alexander Calder and Marcel Duchamp, with his sister Denise René and the exhibition curator Pontus Hultén bringing up the rear.
Homage to New York (1960) is one of Jean Tinguely’s best-known works, along with Study for an End of the World No. 2 (1962), presented near Las Vegas, not far from a former nuclear testing site; or La Vittoria (1970) in front of Milan cathedral. Was it the pitiless, dynamic urban machine of New York, that inspired him in 1960; in Nevada, was it political turmoil (the Cuban crisis), or pehaps his fascination for endless desert landscapes that seems to make him a precursor of land art ? With La Vittoria, a giant phallus spitting sparks, unveiled at dusk to the consternation of certain commentators and VIP guests, he celebrated, with his artist friends, the official end of the New Realists movement.
Interaction, participation and collaborative work lay at the core of his process-oriented performance art. His drawing machines and Méta-Matics redefined the concept of the author and that of the triangle formed by the artist, the machine (production) and the viewer (reception). He exhibited them, for example, at the first Manifestation biennale et internationale des jeunes artistes in October 1959 in Paris, and at Art, Machine and Motion at the ICA in London in November 1959, including them in a “happening” featuring a dancer and two cyclists producing drawings. In May 1960, he used public space in Paris as the setting for Le Transport, where he presented new works: mainly drawing machines, a “machine for making reliefs” and a “machine for making sculptures” brought from his studio at the Galerie des Quatre Saisons, in the form of a public “show” in which many of his friends took part. Tinguely took part in many other performances featuring elements from the worlds of theatre, fine arts, music and dance. In 1956, at the Théâtre des Trois Baudets in Paris, he presented six kinetic reliefs as part of the Spectacle empirique. In 1961, he appeared in Paris alongside Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg, Niki de Saint Phalle and David Tudor with Variations II : Homage to David Tudor (1962). In New York he took part in The Construction of Boston (a Collaboration) staged by Merce Cunningham. Many of his works stand out for their theatricality and real stage presence. Without the active participation of the visitor, they would not be what they are.
Roland Wetzel has been director of the Museum Tinguely in Basel since April 2009.