Jean Tinguely (1925–1991) was one of the most radical, inventive and subversive sculptors of the mid twentieth-century. A founding member of the Nouveau Réalistes, his work was playful, ironic and often anarchic. Joyous Machines: Michael Landy and Jean Tinguely at Tate Liverpool will be co-curated by renowned British artist Michael Landy who, having seen the Tate Gallery’s Tinguely retrospective exhibition in 1982, has been significantly influenced by the artist and his constructive and destructive tendencies. In Break Down 2001 Landy catalogued and destroyed every single one of his possessions from his birth certificate to his car.
The exhibition will focus upon Tinguely’s rarely examined early career, revealing the interplay in his sculpture between the functionless, the utilitarian and the destructive. The exhibition traces the development of Tinguely’s work from the late 1940s building up to his momentous Homage to New York. This, the most famous and influential of all ‘auto-destructive’ works of art, was a 27ft high self-destroying mechanism that came to life for 27 minutes during a performance in the Sculpture Garden of the Museum of Modern Art, New York on 17 March 1960.
Tinguely’s sculptures were often based on the machine and broke down the stabilities of the traditional artwork. In the early 1950s he freed himself from static compositions through the creation of kinetic sculptures that often include geometric shapes painted in bright primary colours. His extensive series of Méta-Malevitch reliefs of the same period consist of simple moving shapes cut out of metal, painted white and set against a black background. Motion and change are central to all these works, yet rather than being logical and sequential, their action was unpredictable taking months or years of operation before a sequence repeated itself.
The interaction of the viewer in Tinguely’s work, setting his machines in motion, is crucial to his examination of the relationship between people, machine and technological process in post-industrial society. The ‘meta-matic’ drawing machines of the late 1950s, several of which will be included, relied upon the participation of the viewer to fulfill their ultimate function – creating abstract works of art.
A major component of the exhibition will be devoted to Homage to New York. Assembled from found objects and constructed with collaborators including Robert Rauschenberg, this vast self-destructing machine was set into motion but, bursting into flames after only 27 minutes, it failed to self-destruct under its own terms and had to be extinguished by museum guards. Michael Landy’s comprehensive research and responses to the work, including a new documentary film and a selection of his impressive series of drawings (he has made over 160 in total), will be presented alongside photographs, films and relics of the original event.
Notes to Editor
Michael Landy was born in 1963 in London, where he still lives and works. He has been an admirer of Tinguely’s work since he visited Tinguely’s solo exhibition at the Tate Gallery in 1982. After studying at the Loughborough College of Art and Goldsmiths College, he participated in the seminal 1988 exhibition Freeze. His first major project, Market 1990, consisted of a large-scale assembly of generic market stalls, artificial turf and plastic bread crates, installed in the vast disused Building One in East London. His 1996 Scrapheap Services, now in the Tate collection, is a room-size installation of a fictional ‘people-cleansing’ company. His most widely known work, Break Down 2001, took place in an empty department store on Oxford Street where, after creating an exact inventory of all his possessions, he set about systematically destroying them over a two-week period.