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Jean Tinguely (1925 - 1991)

The Swiss artist Jean Tinguely was born on 22 May 1925 in Fribourg. After graduating from high school in Basel, he began an apprenticeship as a window decorator in a department store in 1940, but in 1943 he was dismissed prematurely due to undisciplined behaviour. He continued his apprenticeship with the independent decorator Joos Hutter, who encouraged him to study at the Kunstgewerbeschule in Basel from 1944, a time when he discovered the art of Schwitters and Klee and became an admirer of the Bauhaus. Tinguely developed his first spatial sculptures. In 1952 he moved to Paris with his first wife, the artist Eva Aeppli. He expanded his artistic work with the development of kinetic reliefs and sculptures and intensified his work on mobile automatic machines, reliefs and wire sculptures. In the summer of 1954 Tinguely had his first solo exhibition at the Arnaud Gallery in Paris. Whereupon his friendship with the art historian and later museum director Pontus Hulten arose. In 1955 Tinguely, as a neighbor of Constantin Brancusi, moved into a studio at the famous Impasse Ronsin. With Yaacov Agam, Pol Bury, Alexander Calder, Marcel Duchamp, Victor Vasarely and Jesus Rafael Soto he took part in the exhibition Le Mouvement at Galerie Denise René. The first sound reliefs were created. The year 1958 was affected by the friendship and cooperation with the painter and utopian Yves Klein.  From then on he no longer worked with a soldering iron, but with a gas welding machine, later with an electric welding machine. This allowed him to use larger and heavier metal parts. The first drawing machines, Métamatics, were developed. In 1960, Tinguely built the self-destructive machine Homage to New York in the courtyard of the Museum of Modern Art in New York. It was equipped with firecrackers and blew itself up on the occasion of its inauguration. In September, the first museum exhibition followed in the Museum Haus Lange in Krefeld and at the Kunsthalle Berne, the first institution in Switzerland to show a larger group of works. It was the beginning of a long-standing private and artistic relationship with Niki de Saint Phalle. With her, Daniel Spoerri, Arman, Yves Klein and others, Tinguely became a member of the artist group Nouveaux-Réalistes initiated by the critic Pierre Restany. The series of Baluba sculptures was created. The following years brought a number of exhibitions, happenings and collaborative projects in Europe, the USA and Japan. In 1963, Tinguely began painting his machines in black, temporarily breaking with the colorful assemblage and junk aesthetics of the Nouveau-Réalisme. In 1964, the first large sculpture was created for the Swiss National Exhibition in Lausanne, the kinetic «purposeless machine» Heureka (since 1967 at the Zürichhorn in Zurich). Tinguely and Niki de Saint Phalle moved to Soisy-sur-Ecole, south of Paris. In 1967 Tinguely had his first solo exhibition at Galerie Bruno Bischofbeger.


Tinguely essentially worked on three levels: On the one hand, he pursued his own small-scale sculptural and graphic work; on the other, he took on large-scale projects, which often required several years of preparation, and he launched large-scale collective projects in collaboration with artists he was friends with.


Tinguely's preserved early work is entirely devoted to kinetic sculpture. He developed this first as a relief and soon afterwards as a freestanding sculpture. Sounds and noises were integrated. The next step was to involve the audience (Métamatics, Rotozazas). The play with water was evident in the fountain and water sculptures. As early as 1959, Tinguely organized the first actions and public events, such as the planned drop from a small aircraft of the Für Statik manifesto in Düsseldorf. Formally, the artist appears deeply divided: The entire work is pervaded by a struggle between an affinity for rather classical, geometric-abstract form and a Dadaistic-baroque exuberance. The «classical» Tinguely had its roots in Constructivism and the Bauhaus; he was as inspired by the rigour of engineering art as of Alexander Calder's mobiles, and in the late 1950s it moved for a short time close to the aesthetics of ZERO and contemporary kinetic artists (Yaacov Agam, Jesus Rafael Soto, Victor Vasarely). Monochromy, in particular the black one, was a characteristic feature of these works. The main works are the early mechanical reliefs as well as the strict, reductive reliefs and machines of the 1960s, constructed from a few clear forms, gliding silently and quietly. Alongside the rational engineer stood, far more popularly, the «crazy inventor» Tinguely. Wladimir Tatlin, Marcel Duchamp, Kurt Schwitters, Heinrich Anton Müller were the ancestors of the baroque Dadaist, the laughing designer of the wildly whirling, colorfully feathered scrap metal assemblages and the crashing infernal machines. In the course of the evolution of his work, the baroque element gained predominance; it culminated in a late work full of gloomy death symbolism. Jean Tinguely died in Bern on 30 August 1991. Bruno Bischofberger's wife Christina compiled the catalogue raisonné of the work and sculptures of the artist, published by Galerie Bruno Bischofberger.

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