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Panamarenko exhibits in Basel

The Belgian artist, Panamarenko, and his submarine at the Jean Tinguely museum in Basel. Keystone

A giant flying machine dominates the main hall of the Jean Tinguely Museum in Basel. Next to it is a submarine, and other exhibits include flying saucers. All are the work of Panamarenko, a Belgian artist who admits he is difficult to categorise.

Panamarenko has been called as an artist, poet, engineer, physicist, inventor and visionary all rolled into one.

The Basel exhibition of his key works and drawings attest to the accuracy of the description, to which might be added the word “dreamer” – because the objects he has created are from an idiosyncratic dream-world of escapism. They are also both artistic and technical in nature.

Panamarenko – his only name as far as his public life is concerned – was born in 1940 in Antwerp, where he still lives and works. He studied art, but for the past four decades has been making machines for travelling on land, at sea and in the air.

“In this respect,” says the exhibition catalogue, “Panamarenko’s works do not even look like sculpture, but neither do they look quite like anything produced in the normal world of engineering. They have the appearance of things that we already know, but in new and novel forms.”

In fact our ability to understand these machines depends entirely on our capacity to believe that they really do work, and can thus transport us into a different and better world at will.

“I wanted to make dreams come true,” said Panamarenko at the opening of the exhibition. “I wanted to make these things and even if not a soul in the whole world takes a look I would still make them because it’s what I want to do.”

The exhibition ends on October 15.

by Richard Dawson

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