Basel: Artful Whirligigs

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photo by JoAnn Greco

Squeaking, clanking, clattering, rattling, and thumping play a big part in the visitor experience at Basel’s Museum Tinguely, which is situated on the right bank of the Rhine River. Swiss sculptor Jean Tinguely (1925-1991), considered a master of kinetic art, created his ingenious works from all sorts of everyday materials, including scrap metal, plastic, and discarded wheels. And they certainly make a lot of noise.

Prominent Swiss architect Mario Botta, who designed the striking sandstone-clad museum specifically to house Tinguely’s works, spoke glowingly of these sound effects. “Works of art usually make their statements silently,” he once said. “These works are the exception. They communicate through sound engendered by their movements.”

Kids especially love it here: the contagious sound of giggles and shrieks are constant companions of any visit. But adults, too, will be hard-pressed to resist the museum’s call to interact directly with the works either by simply touching them, or by pushing buttons to set them on their merry ways. In the case of one monumental piece, Utopia, which evokes a whirly carousel ride complete with the artist’s signature array of wheels and pulleys, museumgoers can even walk inside. A network of colorful ladders and walkways encourages climbers to become another cog in the massive interplay that is typical of Tinguely’s ingenious constructions.

All of this is just what Tinguely intended. “I wanted to create something bright and cheerful,” he once told a television interviewer. “Something for children to clamber around and jump about…something that feels good, that is spectacular, crazy, also festive….”

The 70 works on hand more than qualify, captivating visitors with a dizzying display of rotating objects, flickering lights and, in the case of outdoor fountains, dancing water. Who said art has to stand still? Information:

While in Switzerland, JoAnn Greco recommends you try luscious Luxemburgerli.