Jaza's World Trip

Tinguely museum visit

For something completely different, today uncle Mark took me on a little excursion out of Zürich, west to the city of Basel, in order to visit the unique and fascinating Tinguely museum. And to see the special exhibit that was on there. And for a nice lunch. And just to see beautiful Basel. Susi couldn't make it — she had something else on for most of the day — but we enjoyed ourselves nonetheless.

After a lazy Sunday start, Mark and myself took the tram (using Zürich's extensive tram network) down to the Zürich Hauptbahnhof (lit: "central station" — a word that I'll be getting to know very well over the next few weeks), and jumped on the next train to Basel. Switzerland is a small country, and it's German-speaking north even more so: what with the lack of crowds on Sunday, and with the regular express train service, we got to Basel within a mere 1 hour.

Basel's a lovely historic city: like Zürich, it too has a great network of trams everywhere; and unlike Zürich, it's actually been a large and important commercial centre since Medieval times. Mark also explained to me how Switzerland has a system called kantons: the country is divided into kantons, which are regions or provinces; and the kanton in which one or more of your parents were born (or, in the rare case of people who were born overseas, and who gained Swiss citizenship later in life, the one in which your citizenship sponsor was born) is your "home kanton". It's a ridiculously old-fashioned notion, and one that goes way back to feudal times; but it's still strongly used to this day (e.g. it's listed on one's Swiss ID card). Anyway: as Mark's sponsor was a woman whose home kanton is Basel, Mark's home kanton is also Basel. He also worked in the city for several years, at one point commuting in every day from Zürich.

The Tinguely museum is dedicated to Jean Tinguely, an artist who in the 50s and 60s created "abstract mechanical art" — countless crazy machines constructed out of scrap metal objects and spare electrical parts, which spin and clash in various amusing but useless ways. Apparently, they're meant to be a comment on the nature of our modern industrial world, and an attempt to bring some of the fun and randomness back to what has become a predictable and purpose-driven mechanised world. Most of the museum is filled with the machines themselves, which you can actually "activate" by pushing a button next to them. One of Tinguely's largest and craziest machines was so cool, I had to get a video of the contraption in action.

Giant wheels of the big Tinguely machine.

Staring in wonder at the machine.

Uncle Mark hanging with the machines.

Strange swinging and banging machine.

The Tinguely machines are utterly ridiculous to watch: metal pipes whack each other; curtains and feathers brush each other; and rubbish-like pendulums swing against each other. But it's all very noisy and lively, and it's quite a fun spectacle to behold.

As well as the standard Tinguely exhibits, there was also a special exhibit on at the moment, displaying the works of the contemporary artist Max Ernst. Like Tinguely, Ernst's work is extremely abstract, although not quite so moving (as in literally) or interactive. I really couldn't make head or toe of a single one of Ernst's various paintings, drawings and sculptures — they all looked totally random to me. Also, neither myself nor Mark were able to find any consistency between his works: apart from the general presence of some human anatomical imagery (e.g. hands, heads, legs) and some clearly symbolic elements, they were all completely different in style. As far as colour, stroke, vividness and tone went, they may as well have all been composed by a different artist. Anyway, at least no-one can deny that the guy was able to master any style.

The museum has a great little cafe downstairs; and in between exhibits, Mark took me down there for a delicious lunch. Seeing that there wasn't much else to do in Basel today — the weather was rather dreary, and not many other things were open on Sunday — that was about it for our sojourning there. Once we were done at the Tinguely, we hopped back on the train, and we made it back to Zürich in time for dinner, without any problems.

Filed in: BaselAbstractArtChilledMuseumsRandom