Jean Tinguely (1925-1991)

The whole of the late 20th century is encapsulated in Jean Tinguely’s work – the acceleration and change of gear in modern life, the collapse of heavy industry, the seep of pollution, the extinction of species - all of it engineered within the mad activity of human minds, endlessly churning and beavering away, hilariously impotent one minute, terrifyingly destructive the next. At the same time he celebrates, with unparalleled delight and humour, the crack-up and demise of modern art itself.

His greatest work is all outwith what he called ‘shit art venues’. In his fountains in Paris, and here in Basel, he created an extraordinary encapsulation of everything that is going on simultaneously in everyone’s minds at any one time, viewed from the perspective of someone who still thinks the world is flat and that we are all up to our necks in it.   Hilarious, unforgettable and deeply moving.

Sadly, the old glass factory in the countryside outside Lausanne, which he bought to house the hundreds of works he hadn’t sold, was never used as he’d intended, to show his crazy sculptures in a sequence of dark chambers tucked in the folds between the bull-bellowing hills. Instead his work was laid bare in a modern open-plan, overarched museum in Basel where, though it still looks great, it lacks the element of surprise. The displays which work best are in the dark basement, where Mengele rumbles ominously on – the greatest single visual statement about the Holocaust.

For more information please visit Jean’s website:

Theaterbrunnen – Fastnachtsbrunnen (Theatre Fountain – Carnival Fountain)  1975 –77
1600 x 1900 x 19 cm  
Theaterplatz, Basel, Switzerland
My wife, Gillian Tait, poses elegantly to give scale

Mengele – Hoch-Altar (Mengele - High Altar) 1986
iron, wood, plastic, hippopotamus skull, motors 
300 x 440 x 420 cm
Tinguely Museum, Basel, Switzeland