Los Angeles

Jean Tinguely

Dwan Gallery

In this exhibition of very recent work, Tinguely has assembled a group of machines that seem for the first time to affect a mood of philosophic affirmation. These are not the anti-machines of earlier shows, rather, they are creations that transcend the cultural implications of mechanics and fall somewhere between the limits of human and motor-driven activity. Al­though they are closely related to, and use the same materials as his earlier work, the found-object, assemblage as­pects have been de-emphasized. Instead, there is a strong sense of sculptural in­tegrity. The pieces are seen as whole beings, and space is manipulated not only while they are in motion, but while still. This is accomplished through a combination of careful selection and an overall coating of a matte black indus­trial paint. This paint also serves to obliterate the prior use of the individual elements thus setting up a kind of multi-leveled ambiguity involving (1) the total effect of the sculpture as sculp­ture, and (2) the recognition that the sculptural parts are in fact ready-made, ex-machine parts although their literal background has been consciously, but not completely, obscured. Within this sculptural context, the individual pieces achieve a sort of stately elegance, but not at the expense of the artist’s in­herent and highly inventive sense of humor.

Some of the pieces still make use of Tinguely’s interest in anthropomorphiz­ing his machines and dealing with anec­dotal situations for humorous purposes. Thus, “Hanibal,” a large, amazingly com­plex machine on wheels becomes a monster elephant, complete with me­chanical trunk and tusks, lumbering mightily back and forth to detach it­self from (or possibly to pull down) the wall to which it is chained; and “Samu­rai,” a large vertical piece stands for­lornly in the middle of a 1963 art gallery, capable of doing little more than fiip-­flopping its sword ineffectually in the air. Other pieces, though, the most ef­fective, maintain a more purely abstract attitude, depending for their interest on a combination of sculptural form, mo­tion and sound, but these too seem to be intelligent beings imitating, some­times happily and sometimes sadly, a variety of human moods.

Even the noise, always an integral if chancy part of Tinguely’s work, becomes a controlled element in the whole. It operates, as do the visual aspects, on multiple levels as an abstract counter­point to the visible motion and as a mood device involving the poetic state­ments in the work. The clanks, bangs and whirrings act upon the audience not as simply a conglomeration of amusing mechanical sounds but as a sort of highly ambiguous, emotional accom­paniment to the action.

This is Tinguely’s best show to date, for in it he shows a concern for formal considerations equal to his interest in expressing the human situation. There is, in these sometimes dignified, some­times comical creatures, a sense of love rather than irony and delight rather than anger or aggression. Although the parts are still resurrected from the junk pile, the symbology involves the recti­fication of society’s mistake in discard­ing something so capable of humanity. There is no way that the “neo-dada” tag so often affixed to Tinguely’s work can. be applied here, unless humor is still considered anti-art.

During the exhibition a progressive cocktail party was held at the homes of three Los Angeles collectors. At each of these homes Tinguely constructed large motor-driven fountains which re­lated closely to the work in the gallery. They used water sprays, some erratic and some beautifully symmetrical as an additional dimension to those of sound and motion.

Don Factor