|Jean Tinguely Machine Spectacle
|01 October 2016 to 05 March 2017
|Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam
|Daily 10:00 - 18:00, Friday 10:00 - 22:00
Museumplein 10, 1071 DJ Amsterdam
|+31 (0)20 5732 911
“Machine Spectacle”, a monumental retrospective from Swiss artist Jean Tinguely at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, does not fail to deliver on its titular promise. Featuring more than sixty experimental kinetic machines of all sizes and shapes, most of them in working order, and accompanied by films, photos, drawings and archive material, the exhibition is a spectacle of mechanical exuberance that submerges the visitor into Tinguely’s artistic universe of provocative absurdity and playful ephemerality.
Inspired by the Dada art movement, Tinguely introduced the idea of motion to the discarded objects he assembled by adding mechanical movement thereby becoming a key player in the rise of Kinetic Art in the 1950s. His Méta machines—a jumble of intricate moving parts, cogs and gears, which have been masterfully displayed in the Stedelijk, perched on pedestals, hanging on walls or suspended in the air—are, as the name suggests, machines about machines, and a critique on the overproduction of material goods in industrial societies that reflect the anxiety over technological advances. But more than that, they are a rejection of static, conventional art, animating the boundary between art and life.
Tinguely’s earlier work borrowed the formal vocabulary of abstract art to create animated versions of abstract paintings by artists such as Malevich, Miró and Klee. Taking this concept one step further, his Métamatics series of kinetic sculptures that produce their own abstract drawings with the participation of the viewers bring into question the role of the artist by literally replacing the artist’s hand with a mechanical arm.
Some of Tinguely’s machines like “Ballet des pauvres” (1961) are made out of junk—in this case salvaged metal and discarded clothing jostling loudly in suspension—whereas others like “Requiem pour une feuille morte”—a monumental piece made up of black wheels and pulleys, 11 meters in length by 3 meters in height, made for the Swiss Pavilion at the World Exposition in Montreal in 1967—belong to a more sleek, streamlined group of black sculptures.
Whereas his kinetic machines are frozen in a loop of infinite repetitions, his self-destroying sculptures, showcased in the retrospective through images and film, are vehicles of the ephemeral that question the status of the works of art as collectibles and challenge the concept of a static experience of viewing art. Then there are works such as “Study for an End of the World No. 2”, an installation-cum-performance which the artist ceremoniously blew up in front of an audience in the desert outside Las Vegas in 1962, Tinguely treated the viewers to a real spectacle of sparks, smoke and sound, elevating their reaction to his work’s raison d'être.
The exhibition also includes numerous pieces Tinguely co-created with other artists such as Daniel Spoerri, Yves Klein and his wife Niki de Saint Phalle, as well as footage by photographer and filmmaker Ed van den Elsken documenting the two major exhibitions Tinguely curated for the Stedelijk in the early 1960s: “Bewogen Beweging” (1961) and the crowd-pleasing “Dylaby” (1962), a dynamic labyrinth of installations resembling fair attractions by Tinguely and five other artists.
In the mid-80s, Tinguely suffered a heart attack and his later work—the grandest of which, “Mengele-Totentanz” (1986), fittingly closes the exhibition—is permeated by a sense of morbidity. Named after the infamous Nazi doctor and made out of debris the artist salvaged from a neighboring farmhouse in Neyruz, Switzerland, when it burnt down after being struck by lightning—perhaps an eerie parallel to him being struck down by a heart attack—as well as other grim pieces like a hippopotamus skull, the installation is a series of 14 moving sculptures representing a demon and his acolytes performing a macabre choreography of hissing and cranking while casting ominous shadows on the walls of the darkened exhibition space.
Interestingly, during the same period Tinguely also created a series of cheerful chandeliers, part moving machines - part lighting fixtures, which hang in the Museum’s central stairwell, poetically rounding up an artist’s work that celebrated the playfulness and absurdity of life until the very end.