Art Daybook: The ‘Dissection Machine’ by Jean Tinguely

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Or: The Ménil Collection, 1533 Sul Ross

Why: Wonders abound in each of the newly redesigned galleries in the Menil Collection, and most will be on display for at least a year; but Jean Tinguely’s kinetic sculpture requires a visit at 12:15 p.m. on the museum’s opening days. That’s when he starts moving down the east corridor of the building for two minutes.

Yeah, two minutes. Tinguely, a Swiss artist who lived from 1925 to 1991, designed his assembly of motorized painted cast iron, welded steel machine parts and mannequin pieces to self-destruct. It’s essentially as ephemeral as a live performance, so Menil’s managers wisely activate it. Miss it, and you’ll have to come back another day. (Those who are only moderately late can catch a consolation prize: Pol Bury’s ‘Punctuation’ just around the corner is on for a few minutes every day at 12:30 p.m.)

“Dissecting Machine” belongs to a collection of “meta-mechanical” works by Tinguely that revolutionized art and added another dimension to the Dadaist practice of turning junk waste into meaningful art. One of his most famous self-destructing pieces, “Homage to New York”, only lasted 27 minutes as it malfunctioned, caught fire and burned down during its VIP unveiling at the Museum’s sculpture garden. modern art in 1960. A number of other survivors reside at the Tinguely Museum in Basel, Switzerland, with drawing machines and canvases whose moving parts create different compositions. It sounds loud when activated – lots of slow noises, squeaks, and ka-chinking as parts collide with parts.

Tinguely made fun of industrialization and technology in the mid-20th century. In the digital age, his meta-mechanical works have a sweet nostalgia, though “Dissecting Machine” looks as evil as it gets. The contained violence of the thing, even when it is not in motion, suggests the brutality of war. (The Vietnam War was raging in 1965 when the play premiered.) In a different context now, the sculpture speaks to the less physical, but no less dehumanizing, chaos that bombards people everywhere, every day.

On that light note, we’ll end with this thought from Tinguely: “You can’t expect the end of the world to end the way you want it to. “

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