A large-scale monochrome in gouache and glue, Michael Landy’s H.2.N.Y Modern Art Goes Boom forms a tribute to one of Landy’s artistic heroes, Jean Tinguely. The intricate work lovingly illustrates Tinguely’s most famous ‘auto-destructive’ work of art, a 27 foot high self-destroying mechanism that came to life for 27 minutes during a performance in the Sculpture Garden of the Museum of Modern Art, New York on 17 March 1960. Landy’s own most well-known work, Break Down (2001), was a descendant of this radical sculpture: the project saw him systematically catalogue and destroy every one of his possessions on an assembly line.
Landy writes: ‘My interest in Jean Tinguely’s work dates back to 1982, when I visited his retrospective exhibition at Tate. At the time I was student studying textiles at Loughborough. I remember riding sculptures, making abstract drawings, throwing balls about and watching machines pogo. The abstract felt-tipped drawing which I took away with me from the show, I subsequently went on to destroy in my piece Break Down 2001. Another object which was destroyed by me was Rosalind Krauss’s book Passages in Modern Sculpture. There was one particular black-and-white image of Tinguely’s Homage to New York, a self-constructing, self-destroying sculpture, which committed suicide on 17 March 1960 in New York’s Museum of Modern Art sculpture garden.
I went on to make 160 drawings and a documentary relating to Homage to New York, as well as tracking down members of the audience who witnessed the event and who also took bits of the sculpture away with them as souvenirs. The 23 x 27 ft white painted sculpture, made from junk collected from New Jersey dumps, took Tinguely three weeks to create and 27 minutes to destroy itself (with a little help from the New York fire brigade). Tinguely said at the time he wanted all the remains to end up in the garbage cans of the museum, and this has strong similarities to Break Down, where all 5.75 tonnes of my pulverised possessions went to landfill.
I like to think of the idea that Jean Tinguely’s Homage to New York comes back to life as an apparition once a year in the grounds of the Museum of Modern Art and performs for 27 minutes in front of Rodin’s Balzac and Maillol’s The River – and disappears once again’ (M. Landy, ‘Homage to Destruction,’ Tate Etc., Issue 17, Autumn 2009).