8 Artworks That Self-Destruct
Gift of Philip Johnson, 1963
A pioneer of kinetic sculpture, Jean Tinguely worked in the Dada tradition, satirizing industrial society’s overproduction of material with his complex assemblages of metal and machinery. Of his most renowned kinetic sculpture, Homage to New York (1960), Tinguely said, “it’s a sculpture, it’s a picture, it’s an accompanist, it’s a poet, it’s decoration—this machine is a situation.” He fabricated the 27-by-30-foot contraption from recycled metal scraps and designed it to self-destruct at the culmination of a half-hour performance, explaining, “the destruction is necessary because this machine is a grandiose spectacle that must live intensely.” Tragicomically, a firefighter intervened when flames burst out, so it never played out as intended during the single performance held in MoMA’s sculpture garden; however, the idea that an intensive, creative life leads to self-destruction lives on in Tinguely’s legacy.
Swiss, 1925-1991, Fribourg, Switzerland