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Exhibition traces Tinguely’s political and artistic roots

An untitled mechanical sculpture completed in 1954 (swissinfo/SRI) Une sculpture mécanique datant de 1954 (swissinfo/SRI).

The early works of sculptor and painter Jean Tinguely have gone on display for the first time at a special exhibition in the museum named after him in Basel.

Tinguely, who died in 1991, is best known for sculptures that are like fantasy machines.

Shortly after his birth in Fribourg in 1925, the Tinguely family moved to Basel, where “The Young Jean” – the title of the exhibition – was educated.

The exhibition traces the period leading up to and including the years when he made a name for himself.

Tinguely used almost any object which had been discarded or abandoned by its owner, in order to create kinetic art depending on movement for effect.

As the artist himself put it: “I began using movement simply as a method of re-creation.

“It was a way of changing the image to make it infinite … The use of movement made it possible to create objects never before found in sculpture.”

Influential artist

Through photographs, texts, paintings and sculptures, the Basel exhibition covers a crucial time in the development of a man who went on to become one of the most influential 20th century artists.

However, not all of that development was artistic.

“He was a member of many groups,” museum director Guido Magnaguagno told swissinfo.

“First there was membership of Catholic Church groups, then membership of the Communist Party, and later he became an anarchist. Both politically and artistically he was a revolutionary.

“But more important than his political leanings, he became a friend of many important artists of his time and was influenced by them.”

The exhibition illustrates that influence by including works by, among others, Arp, Ernst, Calder and Kandinsky.

Tinguely’s breakthrough

In 1955, one year after the start of the period covered by “The Young Jean”, Tinguely shot to prominence after a one-man exhibition in Paris.

“This was thanks to his main invention, which was movement,” says Magnaguagno. “He learned that pictures have many possibilities when they are in motion.”

Although Tinguely was later to look back with affection on his years in Basel, even with its artistic museum treasures the Swiss city proved too limited for an artist of his ambition.

“He had made good friend here and admired his teachers,” says Magnaguagno. “But for him, Basel was too boring and as soon as the opportunity arose he settled in Paris.”

The exhibition, which runs alongside the museum’s permanent collection of huge kinetic sculptures, ends on March 23.

swissinfo, Richard Dawson

Born in 1925, Tinguely spent his childhood and completed his studies in Basel.
He held his first exhibition in 1954 at the Galerie Arnaud in Paris.
In 1955 Tinguely met artist Niki de Saint Phalle, who later became his second wife.
He died in 1991 in Bern.

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR