This is one piece of what the artist called a “self-constructing and self-destroying work of art,” composed of bicycle wheels, motors, a piano, an addressograph, a go-cart, a bathtub, and other cast-off objects. Twenty-three feet long, twenty-seven feet high, and painted white, the machine was set in motion on March 18, 1960, before an audience in the Museum’s sculpture garden.
During its brief operation, a meteorological trial balloon inflated and burst, colored smoke was discharged, paintings were made and destroyed, and bottles crashed to the ground. A player piano, metal drums, a radio broadcast, a recording of the artist explaining his work, and a competing shrill voice correcting him provided the cacophonic sound track to the machine’s self-destruction—until it was stopped short by the fire department.
Gallery label from 2011.
Best known for his production of sculptural machines, Swiss artist Jean Tinguely exhibited mechanical works such as this one in the groundbreaking 1955 exhibition Le Mouvement at the Galerie Denise René in Paris. In the film projected on this wall, artist Robert Breer captured these works in motion. Le Mouvement revealed that an international and multigenerational constellation of artists were using motion to grapple with a changing modern world. “In our time,” Tinguely observes, “industry and automation dominate us and impose a rhythm on us. . . . [M]y work must move to remain vital, to avoid obsolescence.”
Gallery label from Sur moderno: Journeys of Abstraction—The Patricia Phelps de Cisneros Gift, October 21, 2019–March 14, 2020