return to nº44

by Véronique Brom

We just had to travel a mere five kilometres to cross the border between Germany and Switzerland in order to, once again, visit a slightly peculiar museum. It might be more appropriate to refer to it as a kind of temple, since it is exclusively dedicated to the works of one artist, Jean Tinguely, who was born in Freiburg (Switzerland) in 1925 and died in Berne in 1991. (...)
Getting acquainted with Jean Tinguely's work was a turning point in my life as it was my initiation into the world of contemporary art. I was fifteen years old at that time and Tinguely was one of my neighbours. His so-called "machines" and "metamachines" first disconcerted and amused me, or to be more exact, they made my still adolescent self succumb to irrepressible fits of laughter. (...) The fact is that the stir created by Tinguely's installations did not leave anybody indifferent. (...) Naturally, there were disagreement and heated debates among the citizens for the simple reason that Tinguely's work is by nature a public kind of artistic output, intended to be highly visible and ultimately seen by all. To summarize the situation, twenty years ago, Tinguely was our own Hendrix, our peculiar version of Andy Warhol, our nonconformist in residence... (...)
Tinguely had taken an active part in the works produced by the group of "new realists" that included Yves Klein, Pierre Restany, Daniel Spoerri, Jacques Villeglé and others. He had spent some time in Paris, where he met André Malraux, and had exhibited his works throughout the world : peculiar machines that gesticulated with grating sounds, but that came across as bursting with life, brimming over with poetry. (...) Years later, fame and public recognition came to him overnight when he was fifty-two years old. To tell the truth, that change in fortune was not really complete as it was still lacking a special manifestation of support and recognition : that of the inhabitants of the city of his childhood, Basle, had not materialized yet, they did not have "their own Tinguely"... That is why the city council entrusted him with the task of designing a fountain - a first for him - which was named "Fasnachtsbrunnen" (Carnival Fountain). (...)
Jean Tinguely went back to live in Switzerland. A few years afterwards, he bought an old bottle factory at La Verrerie, not far from Freiburg, a building that granted him enough space to organize exhibitions. It also gave him the idea of creating what he called his "antimuseum", a project that testified to his already deep concern about the survival of his works (Tinguely had gone through serious heart surgery in 1985 and it seems that the experience had deeply affected him). However, that "antimuseum" which, in his imagination, he has viewed as a place especially devoted to children and an open workshop available to all his fellow artists, never materialized, purely and simply for lack of funds. (...)
Nevertheless, between 1989 and 1992, when Tinguely was still alive, his friends entered into intent negotiations with the public authorities. In parallel, the Hoffmann-La Roche company, a leading firm in the pharmaceutical industry and quite an institution in Basle, had purchased some of Jean Tinguely's essential works and was thinking about a way to take part in the celebrations marking the centenary year of his birth, announced for 1996. (...)
In 1993, after Jean Tinguely's death, his wife Niki de Saint Phalle, who has just inherited her husband's complete works, (...) accepted to donate them on condition that, in exchange, the Hoffmann-La Roch company would give a pledge to build a museum dedicated to Jean Tinguely and also confirm that all operating expenses would be fully covered.
The Jean Tinguely museum, designed by the Swiss architect Mario Botta and inaugurated in 1996, has already been visited by more than 200.000 people. The entrance fee is 5 CHF (some 520 pesetas) for all age groups. It is a really delightful experience for parents as children never roar or grumble at the prospect of another visit. (...)