The Swiss sculptor Jean Tinguely was born in Fribourg on 22 May 1925. After going to school in Basle, he began an apprenticeship as a shop-window decorator in a department store in 1940. He then studied at the Kunstgewerbeschule in Basle from 1941 to 1945, a period during which he discovered the art of Schwitters and Klee as well as becoming an enthusiastic fan of the Bauhaus.
Tinguely began experimenting with movement in space in 1944 with his machine-like sculptures by equipping them with electric motors and making them spin around at high speed. He moved to Paris in 1951, where he participated in Robert Rauschenberg's international happenings and associated with the casual artist group "Nouveaux Réalistes", exhibiting works in their exhibitions. He had his first one-man exhibition three years later, in 1954, at the Galerie Arnaux. Tinguely's fantasy machines with pre-programmed elements of chance, the so-called "Métamatics", are quite spectacular. They are machines producing drawings, or self-destructive machines. His welded iron constructions represent ironic attacks on the purpose of the era of technology.
Jean Tinguely exhibited works at the Biennale in Paris in 1959 and associated himself with the group "ZERO". The artist's international fame came around the mid-1960s, if not earlier. He showed works at the "documenta" 3, 4 and 6 in Kassel between 1964 and 1977.
Tinguely married the artist Niki de Saint-Phalle, a close friend of his, in 1961. Together, they installed the climbable female sculpture "Hon" at the Moderna Museet, Stockholm in 1966. In the same year he participated in the exhibition "The Machine" at the Museum of Modern Art, New York.
One year later he was present at the World Exhibition in Montreal. His "Machines" were once again shown at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, in 1968 in the exhibition "Dada, Surrealism and their Heritage".
The Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago organised a retrospective exhibition in the same year and there was a large touring retrospective exhibition in 1972-73 which started at the Kunsthalle in Basle. Tinguely never ceased working, even in his old age. In 1980-81 he created the fountain "La Fontaine Stravinsky" in Paris together with Niki de Saint Phalle. During the 1980s Tinguely realised several major projects, et al. exhibitions, sculpture groups and fountains. His works conquered the world.
Jean Tinguely died in Bern on 20 August 1991.