“THE ONLY STABLE THING IS MOVEMENT.”

 

—Jean Tinguely, in a letter to the curator Peter Selz, 1956

Jean Tinguely

Meta - Malevich, 1954
Painted metallic elements on painted wood box with electrical motor
24 1/8 x 19 1/4 x 6 1/4 inches (61.2 x 49 x 16 cm)

Meta-Malevich (1954) is part of a historic early group of works of the same title by the celebrated Swiss artist Jean Tinguely (1925–1991). An elaborate kinetic sculpture with an ever-changing composition, this is a striking example of both Tinguely’s Dadaist spirit and his radical response to art historical precedents.

Associated with the nouveau réalisme group of artists that formed around the art critic Pierre Restany and the artist Yves Klein in Paris in 1960, Tinguely’s work responds to the onset of machine technology in contemporary society. The present sculpture is one of around twenty known Meta-Malevich works, of which seven are in major museum collections, including those of the Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris; The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid; and the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam.

A verso view of a work by Jean Tinguely, titled Meta - Malevich, dated 1954.

Jean Tinguely, Meta - Malevich, 1954, verso

Jean Tinguely, Meta - Malevich, 1954, verso

The work features white forms that float above a black background. An electric motor drives a system of wooden pulleys that are linked by a rubber belt on the back of the relief. In contrast to Alexander Calder’s motion-activated mobiles, Tinguely’s sculptures are mechanically activated; as the gears move at different speeds, the image generated will rarely repeat, and only at random intervals, heightening the element of chance.

A composite image showing three images of an untitled work by Jean Tinguely, in 1954, showing three different phases of movement.

Views of Meta - Malevich (1954) showing the work at different phases of movement

Views of Meta - Malevich (1954) showing the work at different phases of movement

A photograph of the view of Tinguely’s studio at Impasse Ronsin, Paris, 1954. Photo by Rune Hassner

A view of Tinguely’s studio at Impasse Ronsin, Paris, 1954. Photo by Rune Hassner

A view of Tinguely’s studio at Impasse Ronsin, Paris, 1954. Photo by Rune Hassner

Moving to Paris in late 1952 to dedicate himself to art, Tinguely produced a number of groups of kinetic reliefs and wire sculptures. His early work shows a distinctly Dadaist attraction to chance and randomness, as well as a Futurist fascination with machines and automation.

An image of Jean Tinguely in his studio at Impasse Ronsin, Paris

Jean Tinguely in his studio at Impasse Ronsin, Paris

Jean Tinguely in his studio at Impasse Ronsin, Paris

Tinguely was interested in the developments of kinetic art—from Boccioni’s “Manifesto of Futurist Sculpture” (1912) to Marcel Duchamp’s ready-made Bicycle Wheel (1913), Vladimir Tatlin’s Monument to the Third International (1920), and Alexander Calder’s moving sculptures. Here, the artist references the suprematist work of Kazimir Malevich in both name and form. During the 1950s, in addition to the Meta-Malevich works, Tinguely created series called Meta-Herbin and Meta-Kandinsky

The present work was originally exhibited in the artist’s first solo exhibition in 1954: Automates, Sculptures et Reliefs mécaniques de Tinguely, at Galerie Arnaud in Paris. The show featured metamechanical reliefs, of which the Meta-Malevich works are a subgroup. 

In April 1955, Galerie Denise René presented Le Mouvement—the first overview of kinetic art. Tinguely presented four groups of work, including Meta-Malevich, alongside Marcel Duchamp’s Rotary Demisphere (Precision Optics) (1925) and two mobiles by Alexander Calder, among other works.

A photo of a sculpture by Marcel Duchamp, titled Rotary Demisphere (Precision Optics), dated 1925

Marcel Duchamp, Rotary Demisphere (Precision Optics), 1925. Museum of Modern Art, New York

Marcel Duchamp, Rotary Demisphere (Precision Optics), 1925. Museum of Modern Art, New York

An image of a sculpture Alexander Calder, Antennae with Red Dots, circa 1953

Alexander Calder, Antennae with Red Dots, c.1953. Tate Modern, London

Alexander Calder, Antennae with Red Dots, c.1953. Tate Modern, London

Photo of Vladimir Tatlin, Model of the Monument 3rd International, photo dated 1919–1920.

Vladimir Tatlin, Model of the Monument 3rd International, photo dated 1919–1920. Photo: bpk Bildagentur / Art Resource, NY

Vladimir Tatlin, Model of the Monument 3rd International, photo dated 1919–1920. Photo: bpk Bildagentur / Art Resource, NY

An installation view, Le Mouvement, Galerie Denise René, Paris, dated 1955

Installation view, Le Mouvement, Galerie Denise René, Paris, 1955

Installation view, Le Mouvement, Galerie Denise René, Paris, 1955

“I was trying to get away from the imperative, the power of these artists.… I began to use movement simply to make a re-creation. It was a way of re-doing 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

An angle view of work by Jean Tinguely, titled Meta - Malevich, dated 1954.

Jean Tinguely, Meta - Malevich, 1954 (detail)

Jean Tinguely, Meta - Malevich, 1954 (detail)

A detail from an artwork by jean Tinguely, titled Meta-Malevich, dated 1954.

Jean Tinguely, Meta - Malevich, 1954 (detail)

Jean Tinguely, Meta - Malevich, 1954 (detail)

“Tinguely’s machines are anti-machines.… The gears of his pictures have no other precision than that of arbitrariness. This art is based on the idea of the wheel, of repetition and of eternal change.”


—Pontus Hultén, former director, Moderna Museet, Stockholm

A photograph of a view of Tinguely’s studio at Impasse Ronsin, in Paris

A view of Tinguely’s studio at Impasse Ronsin, Paris

A view of Tinguely’s studio at Impasse Ronsin, Paris

Always in motion, never the same, Meta-Malevich affirms Tinguely’s unique response to his times and his passionate embrace of change.

“Forget hours, seconds, and minutes. Accept instability. Live in time.”

 

—Jean Tinguely

An installation view of a work by Jean Tinguely, titled Meta - Malevich, dated 1954.

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