The iconoclast who influenced Tinguely

Tinguely has acknowledged his debt to the works of French-born Duchamp Keystone

An exhibition at the Tinguely museum in Basel features works by a major influence on Jean Tinguely himself - Marcel Duchamp.

This content was published on March 26, 2002 - 10:32

Tinguely was just one of many post-war and avant garde - and 20th century - artists who have acknowledged their debt to both the works and the personality of French-born Duchamp, who died in 1968 at the age of 81.

His influence has lasted to the present day because of the way he provocatively emphasised the relationship between art and life, thus altering the perception of works of art and their creators.

Conceived by one of Europe's most distinguished and progressive curators, Harald Szeemann, the Basel exhibition is the most representative of Duchamp's art to be seen in Switzerland for over 40 years. It includes works loaned from collections abroad, never before seen in a Swiss museum.

Szeemann has long experience of organising Duchamp exhibitions, and told swissinfo: "He has accompanied me throughout my life as a curator."

He added: "Duchamp was fundamentally able to view everything as art which did not solely promise visual pleasure, but which also activated the intellectual abilities of the beholder, thereby making him or her an active participant in the work process."

Genius? Humbug!

Tinguely came under Duchamp's spell after World War II, and once wrote: "I am an artist educated by Duchamp. I met him at the right time (in Paris) and he told me that artistic genius was humbug."

The Frenchman also referred to friends who were artists as "paint dealers".

"Tinguely liked radical gestures," said Szeemann, "and Duchamp made them. "Duchamp had a very cultivated and superior mind, and I remember Tinguely saying to me that everybody saw immediately what he himself did, but nobody really was able to get behind the secret of Duchamp."

The exhibition has examples of Duchamp's "Readymades", installations made from prefabricated objects of everyday life - a urinal was one example - which he placed in the context of art. They influenced Tinguely, as the museum shows, in his kinetic art creations with mechanical movements known as "Méta-Machines".

Discarded treasures

These motor-driven reliefs and sculptures, made from scrap metal and other discarded materials, were much admired by the great iconoclast Duchamp, who particularly enjoyed a Tinguely installation which self-destructed in 1960 at New York's Museum of Modern Art.

Afterwards, Duchamp said: "The public will increasingly continue to go on buying more art, husbands will start to buy little paintings on their way home from work, and we will all drown in a sea of mediocrity. Perhaps Tinguely and a few others will sense this and will try to destroy art before it's too late."

Among his "gestures" was the drawing of a moustache and goatee beard on a reproduction of the Mona Lisa, which are regarded as a witty attack on the concept of the masterpiece and the cult of genius.

by Richard Dawson

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