The Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam recently staged Machine Spectacle, the largest-ever retrospective of Swiss avant-garde artist Jean Tinguely to be seen in the Netherlands. Tinguely (1925-1991) was a key player in the kinetic art movement of the 1950s; many examples of his noisy and strictly non-functional junkyard machines were working, sadly not the auto-destructive ones for which he is best known. Tinguely, Metger and others ushered in an era of urban art which engaged with social and political issues in public spaces, rather than galleries or museums. Their notion of spectacle challenged the prevailing consumption of art and culture and was to be articulated by Guy Debord in his 1967 publication The Society of The Spectacle.
Graphic work was also on display in the exhibition, some working drawings for machines, also presentations for larger public works, often in collaboration with Tinguely’s partner and fellow artist Niki de Saint Phalle. The final exhibit was a wallpaper, also a collaboration, covering the gallery’s end wall.
In 1968 Tinguely – and a number of other well-known contemporary artists – were approached by Sandro Boccola, who together with partners Heinz Bütler, Rolf Fehlbaum and Erwin Meierhofer founded xartcollection in Zurich that year. The company produced signed multiple editions of industrially manufactured artworks In order to make artists’ work available to a wider audience, and these were partly distributed through a Swiss chain of furniture stores.
In 1971, in collaboration with German company Marburger Tapetenfabrik, xartcollection launched xartwalls, a collection of ‘art’ wallpapers commissioned from 10 artists: Paul Wunderlich, Jean Tinguely, Peter Phillips, Niki de Saint Phalle, Allen Jones, Werner Berges, Getulio Alviani, and Otmar Alt. These papers were screen-printed by Marburg in several colourways and first exhibited in Documenta 5 in 1972. More recently some of these have been exhibited in The Walls Are Talking (Whitworth Gallery, Manchester, UK, 2010) and Faire Le Mur (Musée des Arts Decoratifs, Paris, France, 2016).
Tinguely’s contribution to the xartwalls collection was jointly designed with his partner and fellow artist Niki de Saint Phalle (she also contributed her own distinctive design, one of the better known of Marburg’s artists’ papers); this wallpaper has been digitally reproduced for the exhibition. The original was screen-printed with a choice of 3 background colours: white, pink and silver. The design itself is characteristically surreal, consisting of a half-drop pattern of randomly associating objects scattered across the surface, several referencing Tinguely’s kinetic creations. The xartcollection company went bankrupt in 1973 and in the same year Marburg stopped printing xartwalls papers due to poor sales.
45 years on, an exhibition of Marburg’s wallpapers by all 10 xartwalls artists would be very welcome. Any takers?