Jean Tinguely. The Philosophers
Jean Tinguely, one of the greatest masters of 20th century art, is back to Italy with an exhibition promoted and hosted by the Hermann Geiger Cultural Foundation in Cecina (Livorno) under the aegis of the Embassy of Switzerland in Italy, from 27 June to 20 September 2015.
The exhibition Jean Tinguely. The Philosophers, staged by the Geiger Foundation and curated by the Art Director, Alessandro Schiavetti, presents nine kinetic sculptures created by the Swiss artist in 1988 as a homage to the thinkers who shaped and revolutionized his political thought and made him outgrow the Marxism of his youth. The sculptures Martin Heidegger, Henri Bergson, Jacob Burckhardt, Friedrich Engels, Pjotr Kropotkin, Wedekind, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Wackernagel come from the Museum Tinguely in Basel, the prestigious institution inaugurated in 1996 and entirely devoted to the Swiss artist.
Also on show will be five brightly coloured chairs made of wood, coloured glass and stones by artist Niki de Saint Phalle, who was Tinguely’s wife and collaborator as well as his source of inspiration.
Jean Tinguely (b.1925, Fribourg – d.1991, Bern) spent his youth and completed his artistic education in Basel, a city he would always love. He moved to Paris in 1953, where he began to construct his experimental kinetic works. These were handle-driven contraptions constructed of welded wire or reliefs of moving geometric shapes operated by electric motors, which the artist called métamécaniques. He exposed them in the avant-garde art galleries of 1950s Paris, such as Arnaud, Denise René and Iris Clert. His machines were accompanied by self-produced sounds, while others, the so-called métamatiques, were able to make drawings and paintings. The emphasis he placed on movement brought him close to the production of kinetic artists such as Vasarely, Calder, Soto and Munari. The use of waste, mechanic or industrial material, the anarchistic urge to challenge the supremacy of machines and the overproduction of goods and technologies connected him to the poetics of the Nouveau Réalisme.
Tinguely’s machines became complex mechanisms consisting of wheels, mechanical parts and belts that set off scrap metal pieces and, if need be, any other reclaimed material. In an extremely original approach, he was among the first artists to include in his works “non-material” or undefined substances (sounds, light, odours, smoke, fire, and explosions), with the aim of representing the immaterial in art, drawing inspiration from the poetics of his friend Yves Klein.
Some of his sculptures were huge and enormously complex, such as Eurêka (1964), which is over 10 m long and 8 m high, or the relief Méta-Harmonie IV – Fatamorgana (1985), over 12 m long. He conceived impressive projects such as his self-destroying sculptures, e.g. Homage to New York (1960), Étude pour une fin du monde n. 2 (Las Vegas, 1962) or La Vittoria (Milan, 1970). On 13 July 1971 Tinguely married the French artist Niki de Saint Phalle (b.1930, Neuilly-sur-Seine, d.2002, La Jolla). Over the years, they collaborated on several projects, like Hon-Elle for the Moderna Museet in Stockholm, Le Paradis fantastique for the French Pavilion at the 1967 International and Universal Exposition in Montreal, Le Cyclop at Milly-la-Forêt, and the Stravinskij fountain at the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris. Tinguely also took care of the technical aspects of his wife’s Tarot Garden, at Capalbio, Tuscany.
The series on show at the Geiger Foundation was presented for the first time on the occasion of the major retrospective devoted to the artist, which was organized by the Centre Georges Pompidou from December 1988 to March 1989. Tinguely required free admission for children. In his view, they were the ideal audience for his free, direct, amusing and irreverent works. Outside the exhibition, he displayed about twenty recent works, which could be seen without buying any ticket. These included some of the newly-created Philosophers. The portaits play with conventions; they do not celebrate thinkers by mythicizing their images in a sort of monument but rather, through the assembly of moving scrap metal pieces, they transpose the idea of philosophy as Tinguely intended it.
The interactive nature of the exhibition Jean Tinguely. The Philosophers allows visitors to operate the machines and grasp the complexity and originality of the movements as well as the evocative power of the sounds produced. Since his youth, Tinguely had been involved in the research on movement, which was the distinguishing feature of his artistic production. “Everything moves continuously. Immobility does not exist… Don’t be subject to the influence of out-of-date concepts. Live in Time”, wrote Tinguely in the manifesto For Statics (Düsseldorf, 1959).
Jean Tinguely. The Philosophers
From 27 June to 20 September 2015
Hermann Geiger Cultural Foundation, Exhibition Hall
Piazza Guerrazzi 32, Cecina (Livorno)
Opening hours: daily from 6 p.m. to 11 p.m.
For information: www.fondazionegeiger.org