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Jean Tinguely Museum in Basel

Wheels, sounds and noise, recycled materials, moving objects. These are the famous kinetic machines created by the Swiss artist Jean Tinguely; the best of them can be admired inside this museum in Basel, his hometown. People may like to learn that the Tinguely Museum in Basel is housed in a beautiful building designed by the Swiss-Italian architstar Mario Botta (the very same architect of the Moma in San Francisco). Niki de Saint Phalle, Tinguely’s partner, has not been neglected. In the gardens of the museum, you can admire on of her “Nana”; her Nanas are a series of colorful statues of oversized women whose “inner skeleton” was indeed created by her beloved Jean Tinguely.

Why we chose to visit the Tinguely Museum in Basel

We left home early in the morning to go to Basel by train (nearly 4 hours) and visit the Tinguely Museum; it was my son’s dream as his enlightened teachers had decided to focus on art as a class project on art. The focus was especially on Jean Tinguely and on Niki de Saint Phalle, so our 7-year-old son in first grade guided us through the museum, explaining many things that we adults did not know, such as the shooting-paintings. Before we traveled to Basel, we had thought we were mildly cultured. Well, now we know that we are not…

A museum where you can look, touch and climb

Once we reach the museum, we show our Raiffeisen Member Plus card, which allows us to enter without paying a franc. While we walk about the museum, we notice several mothers and grandmothers with their little ones, all ecstatic in front of Tinguely’s kinetic machines. Kids looks at them, but can also set them in motion. In some cases, they can even climb onto them. The best part is that it’s allowed and encouraged: in fact kids were Tinguely’s favourite audience.

The main hall with the huge Grosse Méta-Maxi-Maxi-Utopia machine is impressive: there are stairs to help you climb over and admire this amazing sculpture from different points of view. Another interesting piece is the “drawing machine”: it does everything by itself (children only have to place big felt-tip pens inside the mechanism) but to operate it one needs a token and a sheet of paper. You can buy them at the entrance, but there is no sign saying it. And yet, the Chinese family in front of us – who spoke no other language than Chinese – knew what to do and explained it to us with hand gestures. In another room, there is another similar machine, this operated by pushing a pedal.

The entire museum is full of beautiful sculpture-machines that can be “animated” simply by pressing a button: prevent your children from pushing buttons continuously as, there’s a down time of 5 minutes. All over the museum you will find all sorts of machines, assembled using random materials (scrap, feathers, pieces of iron, plastic, skulls, horns. A bit of everything, actually, sounds and lights included). Often they are “disassembled” in a way that it looks as if they have exploded. These “sculptures” were my son’s favorites, in particular the disjuncted racing car.

The museum’s gardens

After the visit, spend some time in the very nice gardens outside the museum, enjoying its sculptures and its fountains. Bear in mind, however, that the most impressive Tinguely fountain (called Fasnachtbrunnen ) is located in the center of Basel. Its nine animated black figures operated thanks to a low-voltage current are truly impressive.

Extra tips

For more tips about what to do in Basel with children, read our post Basel: the ultimate itinerary with the best children museums


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