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Introduction

Jean Tinguely (1925–1991) was one of the most radical and subversive sculptors of the twentieth century whose work was typified by its irony, parody, humour and inventiveness. Born in Fribourg, Switzerland, he studied at the Basel School of Arts and Crafts in the early 1940s where he obtained a detailed knowledge of the history of modern art. Often using scrap as his basic material, Tinguely was seldom happier than when plundering a junk heap, hunting out newly discarded objects that he could turn into art. Perhaps more than any other artist he was responsible for bringing physical movement to art, rather than making work that merely alluded to it. Using the most basic of materials his sculptures made poignant social comment, examined the ever-changing relationship between humankind and the machine, and at the same time sent established notions of art spinning – often quite literally.

In 1982 the Tate Gallery in London, now Tate Britain, presented a major retrospective exhibition of Tinguely’s work, bringing him to the attention of audiences in this country on an expansive scale for the first time. It also introduced his work to a young Michael Landy, then a student, who has become one of the most respected artists at work in Britain today, perhaps best known for Break Down 2001 during which he catalogued and destroyed every single one of his worldly possessions. Joyous Machines: Michael Landy and Jean Tinguely celebrates Tinguely’s influence upon him. Co-curated by Landy, it brings a unique perspective to Tinguely’s lesser-known early works, tracing a path from his beginnings as an artist through to the spectacular auto-destructive sculpture-happening Homage to New York 1960, a now mythical event that has preoccupied Landy for many years.