Our Artists

Jean Tinguely

Jean Tinguely was a ‘Machine in movement’ artist and a member of the New Realists who rocked the world of art and sculpture in the 20th century.  With a characteristic sense of humour and philosophy and using recycled materials, he created mechanical, gigantic and sometimes self-destructing “living” sculptures to satisfy his love of provocation and spectacle. His unusual avant-garde work is recognised throughout the world today.


The Swiss period: apprenticeship and influences

Born in Freiburg on 22 May 1925, Jean Tinguely discovered his vocation as an artist at an early age. Torn between an alcoholic father and a tormented mother, he often sought refuge in the woods near Basle, where he produced his first works, involving hydraulic wheels with sound effects.  After attending the Basle School of Applied Arts from 1940 to1944, he became a window-dresser.  Here, his taste for provocation and humour was soon noticed.
At the same time, Jean Tinguely completed a large number of oil paintings but felt only disappointment and frustration in the act of painting, unable to accept that a work should be finished: “It was impossible; I just couldn’t, it seems, come to a decision and say: There we are, it’s finished....  This is basically why I took to movement.  Movement allowed me to escape this state of petrifaction, this end”.

Jean Tinguely, artist of movement and life 

From 1950, Jean Tinguely produced abstract constructions that could be moved by turning a handle.  When he arrived in Paris in 1953, he created animated reliefs: known as “ Meta-Malevitch” and “Meta-mechanics”. Little by little, his sculptures became complete works of art that appealed to the five senses, especially that of hearing with his first sound effects. 
Influenced by Marcel Duchamp and kinetic art, he joined the Dadaist movement, largely due to his great love of derision.  Taking up a position against the consumer society and the cult of new objects, he used recycled materials, which he brought back to life by using an engine.
At the Paris Biennial in 1959 he showed Metamatic No.17, machines that produced a series of abstract paintings, and in 1960 he and his friend Yves Klein helped to found the New Realism movement.

Tinguely and the “happening”

Jean Tinguely held his first “happening” in 1960 with Tribute to New York, an explosive construction that self-destructed noisily in the MOMA garden.  Surprised by both the spectacle and its success, he travelled the world for several years to organise other giant events, including Dylaby (Amsterdam, 1962), a moving maze; Hon (Stockholm, 1966) in partnership with Niki de Saint-Phalle, whom he met in 1956 and with whom he formed a talented artistic couple.  Hon was a 27-metre-long construction in the shape of a woman, in which there was a bar, a cinema and a terrace...  The couple also produced Le Paradis Terrestre (Earthly Paradise) (Montreal, 1967), a fight between the Jean’s crazy machines and Niki’s ‘Nanas’. 

Artistic maturity at the heart of New Realism

Alongside the “happenings”, Jean Tinguely created the Baluba series from 1961-1962 and presented Eureka at the Swiss national exhibition in 1964, thereby introducing the notion of the “Tinguely machine” into the Swiss language.
In 1970, he began the construction of the giant
Cyclop ‘sculpture-promenade’ with Niki de Saint-Phalle and other artists in Milly-la-Forêt and he worked on this for the rest of his life.  The Cyclop was unveiled in 1994 and was considered by Tinguely to be different to the rest of his works: “It is the antithesis of my work, given that it is a definitive monolithic piece”.
Tinguely’s machines became more and more masterful, the shapes more confident and the kinetic animation more elaborate.  He created the Crocrodrome de Zig & Puce in 1977, the Fontaine Stravinsky with Niki de Saint-Phalle in 1983 and Mengele Totentanz in 1986. Several retrospectives were organised in Zurich, London, Brussels, Geneva…   Jean Tinguely died in 1991, after having been awarded many prizes for his art, including those from Basle, Paris and Zurich.

Useful links

The Tinguely Museum, in Basle

Visit the Cyclop in Milly-la-Forêt

Jean Tinguely 's products at Nouvelles Images

> Postcards

Postcards Meta-Harmonie-Disloquer

Nationality(ies) : Swiss
Born on : 22/05/1925
Died on : 30/08/1991
Profile : Painter, Sculptor
Artistic current(s) : New Realism
Theme(s) covered : Architecture, Urban