New Realism, Old Modernism: Jean Tinguely and Documentary Film

Activity: Talk or presentation typesInvited or keynote talk at national or international conference


This paper examines the representation and expressive role of Jean Tinguely’s art – and persona – in three documentaries produced in the early 1960s: Homage to Jean Tinguely’s Homage to New York (Robert Breer, 1960); Breaking it Up at the Museum (D.A. Pennebaker, 1960); and Sculpture Mouvante: Jean Tingley (Hiroshi Teshigahara, 1981 [1963]). The significance of these films is three-fold: archival, formal, and situational. Firstly, they document a key moment in Tinguely’s career when his work was acquiring notoriety both through his involvement with le nouveau réalistes but also in relation to its influence on the contemporary American avant-garde scene – a scene with which these filmmakers were all closely associated: Robert Breer, for example, was a seminal figure in its post-war history; D.A. Pennebaker, although usually thought as a pioneer of Direct Cinema, collaborated with figures like Shirley Clarke and Jonas Mekas throughout the 1950s and early 1960s; and Hiroshi Teshigahara – especially in his role as curator at Tokyo’s Sogetsu Art Centre – was instrumental in encouraging new relationships and collaborations between Japanese and American avant-garde artists and groups. Secondly, these films exemplify an approach to the documentary medium as being open to formal experimentation and not simply as a filmed ‘record of reality’, documentary as being a modern visual art form in its own right, comprising its own repertoire of found, appropriated, ‘readymade’, and ephemeral images. Thirdly, Tinguely’s kinetic art can itself be considered essentially cinematic, functioning as an ironic commentary on the mechanics of film production and reception, disassembling cinema’s claim to representing reality, subverting its role in consumer culture, and resituating the audience as not just participants in happenings, but collaborators in the creation of an alternative mechanical spectacle.
Period06 Sep 2018
Event titleSixth International Conference of the European Network for Avant-Garde and Modernism Studies
: Realism(s) of the Avant-Garde and Modernism
Event typeConference
LocationMünster, Germany, North Rhine-Westphalia
Degree of RecognitionInternational