Artist Profile / Museums / Travel

Tinguely & de Saint Phalle

by Mark White

Santana is the title Swiss-born sculptor and painter Jean Tinguely chose for an early kinetic sculpture. The word Santana has many meanings, and it’s possible that Tinquely used it in reference to the Sanskrit word Sanatana; sanatana dharma means the eternal way. When the sculpture Santana is static, is seems incapable of movement. When its electric motor is activated, it begins an initial period of seemingly pointless lurching. Finally, as it builds up sufficient momentum, the wooden wheel attains a surprisingly balanced and even graceful motion. This is a joy to behold.Tingley.jpg

I first encountered Tinguely’s work four or five years ago while visiting the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art in Charlotte, NC. I had hoped to visit the Bechtler again this fall during an upcoming road trip to NC. In a typical good news/ bad news moment, I found out from the Director of Collections that, “The kinetic works are not currently on display and are scheduled to undergo conservation treatment.” The conservation is in preparation for an upcoming exhibition called Celebrating Jean Tinguely and Santana, scheduled to open on May 12, 2017.

bechtlerI have stayed in Charlotte many times over the past forty years to see family and friends. The city has a rich variety of cultural offerings. Niki de Saint Phalle’s work the Firebird was the reason for my first visit to the Bechtler. The 17-foot sculpture, covered from top to bottom in pieces of mirrored and colored glass, stands outside the entrance to the museum like a spectral sentinel.

I have been a de Saint Phalle enthusiast since I first encountered her paintings in the mid 1980’s at a gallery in Ulm, Germany (she was a French-born sculptor and painter). Paradoxically, de Saint Phalle made The Firebird in 1991, the year Tinguely died.

What I learned during my recent inquiry but had never imagined is that de Saint Phalle and Tinguely were married in 1971, and collaborated from 1966 until 1991. Moreover, the two were friends of the Bechtler family, which, of course, helps to account for their works presence in Charlotte. This is simple proximity.

mark-white-head-shotAbout Mark:

Mark White lives in North Carolina and has been married to the most beautiful woman in the world for more than half of his life. He spent 22 years in the Army and has been there and done that. His son is a paramedic and his daughter is a king cobra wrangler. His dogs are Plott hound, pug and miniature pinscher, respectively.


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