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Jean Tinguely, Homage to New York, 1960. New York, USA.


Jean Tinguely Homage to New York New York, USA 1960

Jean Tinguely was invited by the Museum of Modern Art in New York to produce a work to be performed in the Sculpture Garden in March 1960. In collaboration with other engineers and artists, among them Billy Klüver and Robert Rauschenberg, he produced a self-destroying mechanism that performed for twenty-seven minutes during a one-night-only public event for two hundred and fifty invited guests.

Composed of bicycle wheels, dismantled musical instruments, electric motors, an addressograph, a go-cart, glass bottles, a bathtub, and other cast-offs collected from New Jersey dumps, the sculpture was twenty-three feet long, twenty-seven feet high and painted entirely in white.

During its brief operation, a meteorological trial balloon inflated and burst, coloured smoke was discharged, paintings were made and destroyed, and bottles crashed to the ground. A cacophonous round of sounds including metal drums, a radio broadcast, a recording of the artist explaining his work, and a competing shrill voice correcting him, provided a sound track to the machine’s self-destruction. A man in uniform presented Tinguely with a document he took to be an expression of enthusiasm, but which turned out to be a citation for disturbing the peace and violating the city fire code.

When the sparks escalated into flames and a portion of the machine broke away, crashing into an NBC camera crew member, a New York firefighter intervened and doused the machine with water, bringing the performance to an abrupt end.

Tinguely referred to this work, and many of his other sculptural machines, as a “self-constructing and self-destroying work of art”. His was a precursor to the work of many contemporary artists including Michael Landy, who take a critical, often satirical, view of mass production in our advanced industrial society.