A Tinguely feeling

, 12 October 2012

“Meet Jean Tinguely, who might be an artist, an inventor or a philosopher…depending on how you look at his masterpieces.” (Universal Newsreel, 1960)

Le Frigo (open) - 1960 © André Morin (image via Galerie Vallois)
Le Frigo (open) – 1960 © André Morin (image via Galerie Vallois)

Yes, Jean Tinguely does have a wonderful name when pronounced à l’anglaise. But it’s not just his name that’s currently tickling the fancy of Nouveau Réalisme art fans. Eleven of his pieces, some of which have never been exhibited before, are being shown at the Georges-Philippe & Nathalie Vallois Gallery in the artists’ quarter of Saint Germain des Près in Paris. Were Tinguely still with us (he passed away over twenty years ago) he would surely have appreciated the location, only a few steps away from the Arnaud Lefebvre Gallery, the host of his very first solo exhibition.

The collection, divided into “Méta-Reliefs” and “Méta-Matics”, was created between 1955 and 1961. Here, we can clearly see the  fascination with movement, space and fantasy that made Tinguely such an important member of the avant-garde arts scene in the mid-twentieth century.

Bleu-Blanc-Noir - 1955 © André Morin (image via Galerie Vallois )
Bleu-Blanc-Noir – 1955 © André Morin (image via Galerie Vallois )

The pieces from “Méta-Reliefs” involve pressing down on what I can only describe as a small black buzzer-button/doorbell on the floor (with your foot). On the canvas in front, geometric shapes kick into motion, operated by a mechanism behind the frame. The forms throw their shadows backwards, creating a multi-dimensional piece, shapes orbiting around one-another at different speeds. When the foot is removed, the whole becomes a stationary ensemble, and a new image is formed. Whilst in motion, the gentle whirring of the mechanism reminds the button-pusher of the clockwork spine behind.

The forms created are diverse, evoking dismembered punctuation marks, broken letters, cogs, or even an infant’s mobile. These graphic shapes hover inches above the canvas which, in turn, is set out from the wall, enabling the spectator to see the mechanics behind. However, although movement often implies directionality, a coming-together of parts, here the pieces never meet. They never fit together to form a cohesive whole, but revolve continuously in their own spheres. The industrial is made organic with an element of fantasy.

The artist with one of his works (image via Galerie Vallois )
The artist looking at one of his works (image via Galerie Vallois)

“[I] began to use movement simply to make a re-creation. It was a way of redoing a painting so that it would become infinite—it would go on making new compositions with the help of the physical and mechanical movements I gave it.” (Jean Tinguely, Radio Télévision)

The two “Méta-Metrics” pieces are contraptions made using typically nonart materials such as upside-down metal buckets, bicycle wheels, thick screws and elastic cables. They are described in the Universal Newsreel clip as “Industrial abstractism. Weird and wonderful machines  that work superbly but serve absolutely no useful purpose. Their only function is to have…no function.” Tinguely is giving us a satirical study of the relationship between Art and Technology. While this concept might immediately make one think of pop art, his meta-mechanics reveal a closer link to Dadaism.

The gallery is roughly divided into two spaces. Upon reaching the “Méta-Metric” installations, I had perhaps caught the interactive bug, and assumed that these fascinating machines with their cogs, wheels and handles were in the same vein. Pulling, turning and touching with childlike glee (they all work, by the way) I suddenly caught sight of a “Merci de ne pas toucher” sign, and stepped away before anyone could escort me out of the building.

Méta-Reliefs  Méta-Matics (1955-1961) - Exhibition view
Méta-Reliefs Méta-Matics (1955-1961) – Exhibition view

In hindsight, I wonder whether the ghost of Tinguely wasn’t playing games, as the signs were placed in particularly obscure, hard-to-see places. Who puts an important notice on the wall behind the visitors as they enter, and at the bottom left of the support plinth? Then again, perhaps it’s just my sixth-sense tinguelyng

(Jean Tinguely’s Méta-Reliefs / Méta-Matics (1955-1961) is on @ Parisian Galerie Vallois  until mid-Nov.)