This artist is behind two of the most revolutionary ideas in modern art – the Meta-Matic, a machine that draws, and Homage to New York, a self-destructing machine. Jean Tinguely’s descent from Marcel Duchamp’s concepts is only natural – their dialogue takes place around objects that cause us to ponder. These works are composed like thinking machines, taxed as “accessible”. Jean Tinguely’s art is founded in movement, in action, as he seeks to grasp life and society in all their vibrancy. When Tinguely built his Homage to New York in the gardens of the MoMa in 1960, the 16 meter-wide sculpture machine became an exceptional phenomenon in its own right.
Imagined in collaboration with engineer Billy Klüver, Tinguely’s work was composed using 80 bicycle wheels, old motors, a piano, a metal drum, an address machine, a child’s walker, and an enamel bath. Bily Klüver tells: “While we were building the machine, I was constantly surprised by Jean’s total contempt for the fundamental principals of mechanics. He would suddenly demand that something work, then destroy it again with a trivial tweak. Jean worked as an artist, and it’s as an artist that he chose to arrange motors and transmission belts.” When Tinguely’s machine sprung into action for its one and only time on March 17, 1960, it was to pay homage to the Big Apple. In a fury, as if imbued with the unparalleled energy of New York – an eternal energy – the sculpture machine self-destructed in front of the audience. The only thing left of it now are fragments.
For the artist, the destruction of his machine is an allusion to the ephemeral nature of life, all while making fun of the magnificently definitive side of New York. Tinguely himself specified: “I especially gave myself free reign by building while always having the destructive possibility in mind. That is to say, by building something without knowing if it would last a minute, or ten minutes, or two hours, or ten years. My problem was thus solely to dedicate myself to a completely wild and free construction.” Today the only thing left of this extraordinary event is photos, a film, and a number of euphoric eyewitnesses who will make this work of art live on in history.