Private Collection, Luxembourg
Collection P. Wurth, Brussels
Galerie Beyeler, Basel
Galerie Renée Ziegler, Zurich (acquired from the above in 1984)
Galerie Ziegler SA, Zurich (acquired from the above in 2009)
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2013
Turin, Promotrice delle Belle Arti, Jean Tinguely 1954-1987, November 1987 - January 1988
Zurich, Galerie Renée Ziegler, Jubiläumsausstellung (30 Jahre Galerie), 1989
Aarau, Aargauer Kunsthaus, Equilibre, September - November 1993, p. 176, illustrated
Zurich, Haus für Konstruktive und Konkrete Kunst; Neuchâtel, Musée d'Art et d'Histoire; and Frankfurt, Kunstverein Frankfurt, Regel und Abweichung, Schweiz Konstruktiv 1960-1997, October 1997 - November 1998
Basel, Museum Jean Tinguely, Jean le Jeune, September 2002 - March 2003
Klagenfurt, Stadtgalerie Klagenfurt, Jean Tinguely, June - September 2003, p. 34, illustrated
Solothurn, Kunstmuseum Solothurn, Les Livres de Vie: Eva Aeppli und ihre Künstlerfreunde, August - November 2006
Hamburg, Kunsthalle Hamburger, Ikone der Moderne: Das Schwarze Quadrat, March - June 2007
Liverpool, Tate Liverpool, Joyous Machines: Michael Landy and Jean Tinguely, October 2009 - January 2010, p. 138 (text)
Zurich, Galerie Ziegler SA, Hommage an Jean Tinguely (1925-1991), Maschinen 1955 - 1991, 2011
Jean Tinguely quoted in: Exh. Cat., Venice, Palazzo Grassi, Jean Tinguely 1954-1987, 1987, p. 56.
Created in the seminal year of 1954, Meta-Malevich is an exceptional example of Jean Tinguely’s artistic scrutiny of the evolving bond between man and machinery. Executed in a restrained monochrome palette of white elements on a black background, Tinguely drew from the formal language of modernist abstraction, reinvigorating the familiar forms of early twentieth-century masterpieces with a kinetic energy that goes beyond the illusion of optical effects and instantiates the artwork’s animate nature within space. As part of a small yet iconic series of works created predominantly between 1954 and 1955, Meta-Malevich pays whimsical homage to Tinguely’s revolutionary artistic forebears from a standpoint that wavers between ecstatic inspiration and iconoclastic playfulness.
The monotone white lines and circles of Meta-Malevich recall the simplified grids of Piet Mondrian and proponents of the De Stijl movement. In their conquest for abstract clarity and the development of ‘Neo-Plasticism’, conceived two decades before the creation of this work, Mondrian’s idiosyncratic grids would find fame through their structured monumentality and their enduring presence of careful balance. Here Tinguely maintains some of the pure elements of art – namely, unaltered colour and simple geometric shapes – and transports these elements into a system of ever shifting movement, disrupting pictorial stability in favour of playfully unsettled relations.
This sense of mechanised movement is foreshadowed somewhat by the hanging mobiles of Alexander Calder initiated in the 1930s, which utilised a similar palette. Calder mapped a trajectory for technical development that was emulated by Tinguely who would move from the manual to the electrically operated. But whilst the free isolated elements of Calder’s mobiles rotated with an emphatically organic sense of rhythm, Tinguely pursued randomness and a lack of sequence in mechanically moving elements. What interested the artist most, which is most perfectly perceptible in Meta-Malevich, was the ability of the image to constantly modify itself. Here Tinguely used asynchronous gears moving at different speeds so that the configuration of shapes would only repeat themselves at immeasurable intervals, if ever at all.
Despite Tinguely’s ‘meta-mechanical’ pieces claiming an evident affinity with Mondrian and Calder, the overriding reference here is made to Russian Suprematist Kazimir Malevich with whose work an intense visual and verbal parallel is drawn, almost to the extent of pastiche. Malevich’s Suprematist abstractions found their logical goal in the calculated balance of discrete coloured forms in order to create a monumentally spiritualistic effect. Here, such strident utopianism is torn apart, infusing those forms that stood for the eternal, with a sense of ephemerality through their interminable mechanical transit.
Meta-Malevich provides a spirited example of Tinguely’s energised iconoclastic tendencies, and his dalliances with notions of ‘anti-art’. Indeed he was keen to accept classification as neo-Dadaist. Admittedly he was fascinated by the idea of throwing a grenade at the Mona Lisa, even making detailed plans that he was too deterred by the threat of prison to ever carry out. Of course, much like the Futurists, an aggressive fascination with the mechanical processes of modern life was what drove Tinguely to pursue new territory with his amalgamation of art and mechanics. This drive is typified in his adoration of motor racing, which he saw as a balletic embodiment of his core artistic concerns. As noted by Pontus Hultén “in this sport, man and machine are tested to their limit. A motor race is an irrational, sometimes absurd event in which anything can happen; to attempt the impossible is one of the rules of the game” (Pontus Hultén, A Magic Stronger than Death, London 1987, p. 29). Like motorcars racing on a conceptual track, Tinguely’s select forms in Meta-Malevich run in incongruous and competing rhythms, with an isolated dynamism that re-chartered the expectations of art history.
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