Lot 6
  • 6

Jean Tinguely

200,000 - 300,000 GBP
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  • Jean Tinguely
  • Meta-Malevich ‘Formes mouvementées’
  • signed and dated 55 on the side
  • painted metal elements on painted wooden box with wooden pulleys, rubber belt, metal fixtures and electric motor
  • 62 by 50 by 8cm.; 24 3/8 by 19 5/8 by 3 1/8 in.
  • Executed in 1954-55.


Svensk-Franska Konstgalleriet, Stockholm

Acquired directly from the above by the present owner in 1966


Paris, Galerie Arnaud, Automates, Sculptures et Reliefs Méchaniques de Tinguely, 1954

Bern, Kunsthalle Bern, Lumière et Mouvement, 1965, n.p., no. 139

Basel, Museum Tinguely, Le Mouvement. Vom Kino zur Kinetik, 2010, p. 71, illustrated in colour


Karl Gunnar Pontus Hultén, Ed., Jean Tinguely: ‘Méta’, London 1975, pp. 24-25, installation view

Christina Bischofberger, Jean Tinguely: Catalogue Raisonné 1954-68, Zurich 1982, p. 23, no. 15, illustrated


Colour: The colour in the printed catalogue is fairly accurate, although the overall tonality is brighter and more vibrant in the original. Condition: This work is in very good condition and full working order. No restoration is apparent under ultra-violet light.
"In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.

Catalogue Note

Created in the seminal years of 1954-55, Meta-Malevich ‘Formes movementées’ is an exceptional example of Jean Tinguely’s inventiveness, his on-going exploration of the evolving bonds between man and machinery, and most crucially the new potential for a sense of mechanic dynamism in art. Executed in a restrained palette of red, blue and white on a black background, the artist draws from the formal language of modern abstract painters, reinvigorating the familiar forms of early twentieth-century masterpieces with a kinetic energy that goes beyond the illusion of optical effects instantiating the artwork’s animate nature within the space. As part of a small yet iconic series of works created predominantly in 1954-1955, which propagated formal variations on this decisive aesthetic, Meta-Malevich ‘Formes movementées’ sees Tinguely paying whimsical homage to his revolutionary artistic forebears of the Twentieth Century from a standpoint that wavers between ecstatic inspiration, and iconoclastic playfulness.

Monotone white lines, with accented shapes consisting of primary blue and red Meta-Malevich ‘Formes movementées’ recalls the simplified colour grids of Piet Mondrian and proponents of the De Stijl. 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 colours and simple geometric shapes – and transports these elements into a system of ever shifting movement, disrupting their 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 of 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 the mechanically moving elements of his pieces. What interested the artist most, which is most perfectly perceptible in Meta-Malevich ‘Formes movementées’, was the ability of the image to constantly modify itself. Here Tinguely has 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 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 transit.

As noted by Pontus Hultén, Moderna Museet director during the 1960s and an influential supporter of Tinguely’s practice, with his irreverent remixing  of artworks came a feeling of intellectual stasis, caught between overly cold abstraction and the gratuitous flamboyance of Abstract Expressionism: “the Constructivists, with their faith in rational method, have an outlook that resembles the hope of early morning ambition and hesitation. The mood of the spontaniests is more like the dejection of evening, and the confused feeling that anything might be possible. Their art is bewildering, without limits or restraints, but at the same time isolated. By 1955 it was quite clear that art would have to break away from these two static alternatives if it was to press on to new perspectives” (Karl Gunnar Pontus Hultén, Jean Tinguely: ‘Méta’, London 1975, p. 7).

Meta-Malevich ‘Formes movementées’ 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 again by 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 ‘Formes movementées’ run with incongruous and competing rhythms, with an isolated dynamism that re-chartered the expectations of art history.