Lot 7
  • 7

Jean Tinguely

200,000 - 300,000 GBP
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  • Jean Tinguely
  • Formes mouvement√©es
  • signed and dated 55 on the reverse
  • painted metal elements on a painted wooden panel with wooden pulleys, rubber belt, metal fixtures and electric motor
  • 51 by 63 by 24cm.; 20 by 24 7/8 by 9 3/8 in.


Galerie Burén, Stockholm

Acquired directly from the above by the present owner in 1966


Karl Gunnar Pontus Hultén, Ed., Jean Tinguely: ‘Méta’, London 1975, p. 51, installation view 

Christina Bischofberger, Jean Tinguely: Catalogue Raisonné 1954-68, Zurich 1982, p. 50, no. 56, illustrated; and p. 55, installation view

Exhibition Catalogue, Paris, Centre Georges Pompidou, Jean Tinguely, 1988-89, p. 46, installation view


Colour: The colour in the catalogue illustration is fairly accurate although the overall tonality is slightly warmer in the original. Condition: This work is in very good condition and full working order. There is evidence of minor handling to the extreme outer edges and small traces of oxidation to the base of the metal spokes. Close inspection reveals two small areas where the paint has flaked to the bottom and circular elements, which do not fluoresce 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

“Everything moves. Immobility does not exist. Do not be dominated by antiquated notions of time. Forget hours, minutes, seconds. Don’t resist metamorphosis. Live in time…”

Jean Tinguely quoted in: Exhibition Catalogue, Venice, Palazzo Grassi, Jean Tinguely 1954-1987, 1987, p. 56.

Jean Tinguely’s uniquely experimental approach to sculpture is unparalleled by any other artist of the Twentieth Century, embodying an innovative fusion of aesthetics and mechanics that posed revolutionary new dimensions for the status of the artwork. The Swiss–born artist’s practice reached a methodological breakthrough in the early 1950s, when he began suspending common household objects and rotating them at varying speeds, thus transforming the objects into kinetic entities and loosening art’s ties to the static moment. Created in a seminal year for Tinguely, Formes mouvementées is a prime early example of the monochromatic kinetic sculptures which Tinguely created between 1955 and 1959.

The curious inner workings of Tinguely’s visionary mechanical aptitude gave birth to a hypnotic tableau of transitory manoeuvres. Utilising bold yet elegant black forms, which may otherwise misgive a sense of permanence, the piece assembles an animated dance that relishes in the ephemeral rhythms of abstract shape relations and chance encounters. Shown here, this work was documented in an insightful photograph of Tinguely’s studio, adorning the walls of the artist’s busy workshop as he hammers components into a similar piece. Other such examples from this important series find places amongst international public collections including the Museum of Modern Art, New York, the Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris and the Moderna Museet, in Stockholm and Malmo.

1955 was significant year for Tinguely as he solidified the conceptual title for his sculptures as ‘meta-mechanical’ entities. While an ingenious mastery of carefully calibrated mechanisms and his status as a technical sage are not to be overlooked, this conceptual designation elevates the mobile nature of his kinetic sculptures beyond the realm of the utilitarian or entertainment, and decidedly into the cerebral. As noted in 1955 by the eminent collaborator and critic who also helped create this term, Pontus Hultén (later named director of the Moderna Museet in 1960): “continually changing movement is a manifestation of chance, which has traditionally been regarded as the least artistic thing of all. The beauty of continual change is being offered as an alternative to absolute final order. Kinetic art seems to be the most radical expression of some of the most important ideas in modern art” (Pontus Hultén, A Magic Stronger than Death, London 1955, p. 32). Akin to a manifesto, these words firmly situate Tinguely’s work within the new avant-garde frontier of his generation; his unique approach to reality instigated a natural assimilation into the Nouveau Réalisme movement.

Tinguely was confounded by the irony of technology in its arresting unpredictability, whereby the unintended and irrational movements of machines transformed their previously utilitarian value into purposeless yet fascinating performances. Over the years, Tinguely’s inventive objects took on different appearances, as perfectly demonstrated by the three works in this collection. Formes mouvementées comprises of an archetypal set of metal forms which, electrically operated by an intricately balanced system of wheels and pulleys, glide over the surface of the piece at different speeds, making momentary encounters and haphazard intersections. Calibrated to circulate within no specific pattern, the form’s temporal arrangements may not recur for days, weeks, perhaps even years. Converse to the hallowed permanency purported by his abstract forbearers, Tinguely relishes in the idea of chance and spontaneity with decidedly Dada anti-art sentiments.  Dematerialising the static image, Tinguely achieves a greater level of ‘meta’ abstraction by accessing the constant flow of movement and sound which unfolds in real time.

The use of concrete materials to convey a sense of weightless movement and motion, provides a rumination on the poetics of mechanics and man’s ability to create subsidiary animation and new life in the form of the machine. Tinguely’s moving sculptures break down the paradoxical boundaries between art and mechanics. Whereas the former is often considered to be a distinctly human form of expression, the artist’s kinetic pieces leave part of the manifestation of the work to the mechanical performance of his machines. As Tinguely noted, "the machine is an instrument that permits me to be poetic. If you enter into a game with the machine then perhaps you can make a truly joyous machine- by joyous, I mean free” (Jean Tinguely quoted in: Calvin Tomkins, Ahead of the Game: Four Versions of the Avant Garde, Harmondsworth 1968, p. 140). With a bold sense of aesthetic simplicity that veils a complex working of constructed systems Tinguely’s Formes mouvementées reminds us of one of the greatest paradoxes of life: the only stable certainty in the world is perpetual movement and change.