top of page

Art Index: Jean Tinguely

“Everything moves continuously. Immobility does not exist. Don't be subject to the influence of out-of-date concepts. Forget hours, seconds and minutes. Accept instability. Live in Time. Be static - with movement. For a static of the present movement. Resist the anxious wish to fix the instantaneous, to kill that which is living.

Stop insisting on 'values' which can only break down. Be free, live. Stop painting time. Stop evoking movements and gestures. You are movement and gesture. Stop building cathedrals and pyramids which are doomed to fall into ruin. Live in the present, live once more in Time and by Time - for a wonderful and absolute reality.”

Jean Tinguely


Jean Tinguely was a Swiss sculptor best known for his kinetic art sculptural machines (known officially as metamechanics) that extended the Dada tradition into the later part of the 20th century.

Tinguely's art satirized automation and the technological overproduction of material goods.

He was born in Fribourg in 1925 as the only child of a factory worker and his wife.

In 1928 the family moved to Basel where Tinguely lived until 1951, when he moved to Paris. As a child he was a poor student but an avid reader and spent much of his free time perched in a tree thinking and reading. He created his first example of kinetic art at the age of 12 and still felt in the 1980s that this was his best effort in motion art.

Jean Tinguely - Heuraka - Zürichhorn, Zürich, Schweiz (Micha L. Rieser, Attribution, via Wikimedia Commons) © Jean Tinguely

In 1940, just as the Second World War began, Tinguely witnessed violent bombings, caused by the fact that Basel straddles along the border with Germany.

During this period he began his apprenticeship as a window decorator, but two years later he was fired for his restlessness. At the end of 1944 he began to work as an independent craftsman while, at the same time, attending professional courses focused on painting and drawing.

It is during these courses that Tinguely comes into contact with the works of Schwitters, Klee, and the Bauhaus. He reads socialist and anarchist texts, meets political refugees, takes on an attitude of violent rejection of all forms of dictatorship.

Between 1945 and 1950 he became increasingly interested in avant-garde art. He begins to paint abstract works and he devotes himself to the creation of sculptures mainly using metal parts, wood, and paper.

Jean Tinguely's fountain before his museum in Basel. © Jean Tinguely

In 1954 his first exhibition was inaugurated at the Arnaud gallery in Paris.

“The intellectual and artistic climate of Paris was a great stimulus to him, as was the vast flea market where Tinguely could find virtually any type of object or artifact. His predilections for the Constructivist principle of assemblage, the Dadaist use of cast-offs or "found objects", and the use of motion by gas or electric motors had become constants in his work, even in his relief constructions. Tinguely quickly came to be recognized as a rebel and worked in directions at odds with most accepted forms of artistic expression. He was particularly opposed to static easel painting, in a response to which in 1953 he created his meta-matics—robots that moved about, made noises, and could be fitted to perform a number of tasks. At the Biennale de Paris of 1959 he designed a metamatic to make abstract paintings. Spectators who could start and stop it as well as change colors activated the machine. Almost 40,000 paintings were produced in two weeks. The crowds that had come to see the Biennale were thoroughly entertained, but abstract expressionist artists were disgruntled by Tinguely, whom they considered a charlatan.”


Part of Le Paradis Fantastique by Niki de Saint Phalle and Jean Tinguely © Jean Tinguely

(, CC BY 2.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons)

Tinguely developed his kinetic sculptures known as “metamatics” to explore the absurd side of humanity's reliance on technology. In this same vein, for his famed work Homage to New York (1960), the artist designed a self-destructing kinetic sculpture in the garden of The Museum of Modern Art. “Art is the distortion of an unendurable reality”, he once stated. “Art is correction, modification of a situation; art is communication, connection. Art is social, self-sufficient, and total.”

Today, the artist’s works are included in the collections of the Reina Sofia National Museum in Madrid, the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., the Kunstmuseum Basel, and the Tate Gallery in London, among others.


Tinguely by Wolleh (Lothar Wolleh -, CC BY-SA 3.0) © Jean Tinguely

According to Tinguely’s turnover in 2020 is $1,539,335 with the last peak in price dated 2008.

Most of his works were sold in the range of $100,000-$500,000.

The oldest auction result ever registered on the website for an artwork by this artist is a drawing-watercolor sold in 1984, at Christie's, and the most recent auction result is a print-multiple sold in 2021.

Most of the auctioned works consist of print-multiple, drawing-watercolor, sculpture-volume, painting, objects, photography, furniture, ceramic, lightings, audiovisual-multimedia.

Distribution by price (by Artprice)

One art work will soon be put on auction at the SBI Art Auction Co the 29th of Jan 2021.


bottom of page