His Most Famous Sculpture (Chaos I) – Jean Tinguely


Swiss painter and sculptor, Jean Tinguely (May 22, 1925 – August 30, 1991), born in Fribourg, Switzerland, grew up in Basel, and moved later to France to pursue an artistic career. In the mid-twentieth century, he became a part of the Parisian avant-garde, and was one of the few esteemed artists to sign on the famous ‘New Realist’s Manifesto (Nouveau Réalisme)’ of 1960. Jean Tinguely is renowned for his ‘Dadaist’ kinetic sculptures, which he called ‘Metaméchaniques,’ or ‘Metamechanicals.’ His creations were robot like devices, made from wire and sheet metal, with the various parts of the sculpture, moving or spinning at varied speed. Tinguely’s art were in a way a satire on the senseless expansion of material goods in modern societies. The creations were a reflection of his views that change, instability, and movement were the essence of life as well as art. “Chaos I” (1974) is an engineering and creative wonder and is one of the most famous creations of Jean.

Weighing around seven tons and measuring 30 feet high, “Chaos I” is the centerpiece attraction at ‘The Commons,’ a downtown civic mall. It initially appears as an ‘in motion’, a clattering junk, rather than a piece of art. A deeper look at the creation reflects the imagination and the humor of the creator, Tinguely. The twirling of huge lollipop shapes and the moving of gears, along with metal balls, climbing a shaft and then dropping down through a wiry tunnel, all the movements are a part of the sculpture. Apart from its structure, “Chaos I” lives up to its name in the terms of its simultaneous movements as well, resulting in a fascinating confusion. The creation is surrounded by a small water moat, where people throw wish pennies. These pennies are donated to charities. The creation, made of salvaged metal, with its varied motions, is a source of enjoyment for both, children and adults.

Jean Tinguely can easily be referred to as one of the most inventive and revolutionary sculptors from the mid twentieth-century. Another very famous work of his was the self-destroying sculpture he created called “Homage to New York” (1960). The sculpture was meant to disintegrate itself, but was a disaster as the complex assembly of wheels and motors did not operate as planned. However, a later sculpture, ‘Study for an End of the World No. 2’ (1962), disintegrated successfully in public. “Chaos I,” one of Jean’s personal favorites, remains with us as a memory of the great artist and a representation of what wonders creativity can bring about.

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