Before the old Basel Theater was blown up in 1975, parts of the old stage machinery were salvaged and given to the artist Jean Tinguely (1925-1991), who spent two years recycling this old machinery and making it into an elaborate and entertaining fountain, the Fasnachtbrunnen or Carnival Fountain, on the site of the old theater and right in front of the new one.
The ten machine sculptures in this fountain are kinetic sculptures, meaning that they have moving parts. Amazingly, these are still in good working order after over forty years of operation, so somebody must be responsible for keeping them in good repair. (Thanks, whoever you are.) The machines also squirt water, by the way.
The fountain was paid for by the Migros cooperative, a unique Swiss institution which at the time was celebrating its 50th anniversary. To me as a Fremdländischer i.e. non-Swiss person, the Migros organization has always seemed rather mysterious, but about two million Swiss people are members of it, that’s roughly 28 % of the population.
For those who want to see more of Tinguely’s work, there is an entire museum in Basel devoted to his machine sculptures and other artistic creations. The museum is on the other side of the Rhine River, a ways upstream — not centrally located, but easy to reach by bicycle.
The Museum Tinguely was designed by the architect Mario Botta and inaugurated in 1996. Jean Tinguely’s widow, the artist Niki de Saint Phalle, donated over fifty of her husband’s machine sculptures and a considerable number of drawings and documents from his estate.
The museum is owned and financed by a prominent pharmaceutical company. According to its website, this museum “is unlike others: here, things rattle, squeak, crash and thump. Colourful scrap rotates, multi-coloured lights flicker.”
I’ve never been inside the Tinguely Museum (for the same reason that I’ve never seen an opera performance in Basel), but it’s on my list for a future visit.
My photos in this post are from 2008. I revised the text in 2020.
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