Starting in the mid-20th-century, Swiss native Jean Tinguely cobbled art together with a tinker’s touch. The son of a factory mechanic, Tinguely first started making art as a child, wandering the woods outside his home in Basel, mounting small water wheels in the creeks to create sound sculptures. He made art out of what he knew and what surrounded him, the natural movement found in the world with the industrial materials lying around his house.
He moved to Paris in 1953 and would spend the rest of the decade pioneering kinetic art, beginning with gently bouncing springs or swinging arms and advancing to automatic drawing machines called Meta-mechanics, which, like a carnival fortune teller, would make you a drawing for the price of a token. This performative element of the work married to the acknowledgement of the viewer as a participant would continue throughout the next forty years of Tinguely’s work. Some of the work remained interactive, with the viewer activating the sculpture with the push of a button, but in others, the sculptures whirl with balletic grace continually as in the Stravinsky Fountain in Paris, done in partnership with his frequent collaborator Niki de Saint Phalle, or clank occasionally to life in solitude as in Cyclops, the monumental installation hidden in the French forest of Milly-le-Forêt.
Tinguely continues to be well-known and well-loved in Europe 23 years after his death in 1993. He is equally influential among artists in the United States, though he is less well-known by the general public. Yet his legacy can be seen in contemporary art being made throughout the world, and in the immediate North Carolina region.
The Bechtler Museum of Modern Art is in a unique position to mount an exhibition of Tinguely’s work. The museum has three major sculptures in the collection, as well as numerous prints and drawings illustrating Tinguely’s process. The Bechtler also benefits by its proximity to Tinguely’s last major commission, Cascade, located in the Carillon building on Trade and Church in uptown Charlotte. Finally, we have the personal connection of our founding patron, Andreas Bechtler and his father, Hans, who had close relationships with the artist and his circle.
Credit: Exhibition overview from museum website