Contemporary art Exhibitions Fairs Switzerland

The Tinguely, but not as you know it

Kristof Kintera subverts the Basel museum with a droll, Dada-ist wit

Kintera’s “discount sale” installation

The Museum Tinguely has gone downmarket. Instead of the swish entrance, visitors are directed to a side door and find themselves in a discount clothes shop complete with cheap and cheerful clothes and rip-off handbags. Kristof Kintera is responsible for the makeover, which includes misshapen mannequins that mutter to themselves and garish signage. Hats off to the Tinguely for allowing the Czech artist to run amok; “I Am Not You” (until 28 September) includes surprise after surprise in a space that is not short of kinetic novelties.

Using everyday objects in unusual ways, and questioning mundane experiences, Kintera creates darkly humorous pieces, such as an armoured baby buggy in camouflage pattern. A teetering tower of gypsum sacks looks like a DIY project bound to end in tears, as well as being elegantly Brancusian. “Everything can be used as material [for sculpture],” he says. “I don’t need to work with bronze. It can be everything, like a tree or an old lamp. I am also interested in changing the purpose of everyday objects. I am trying to bend and warp reality, sometimes using minimum effort, sometimes using a lot. Through such a process, a strange, new item begins to emerge with its new, unnecessary existence. It is about giving it its own, new (dis)logic. That is very exciting.”

One of the most successful contemporary Czech artists of recent years, Kintera has had numerous international exhibitions, including a mid-career retrospective (“Analysis Results”, 2012), and has been nominated three times for the Henry Chalupeckého award, the most prestigious Czech art prize. This exhibition comprises more than 30 works, some in the space that surrounds the museum. Two-thirds are on loan from private collections and galleries, while the rest have been made specifically for the show.

The dark side of Dada

“The extraordinary thing about this exhibition is that it changes the experience of a normal museum visit,” Kintera says. “It will be out of the ordinary, and that is very important.” The museum’s staff have seen nothing like it—not least the “catalogue”, a collection of loose sheets in shoe boxes that forms a strange kind of autobiography. There are around 400 pages of the artist’s reproduced sketches, newspaper cuttings and photos from his workshop, plus a ten-page interview between Kintera, the curators and the Czech gallerist Jiri Svestka; a typical page features the declaration that “it’s all bullshit”. This has been printed in a limited edition of 1,000. It is not your “everyday” exhibition catalogue.

Roland Wetzel, the co-curator of the show with Andres Pardey, singles out Revolution, 2005, an almost 1m-high replica of a robotic child that periodically hits its forehead against the wall as if being punished for bad behaviour. In doing so with great force, it slowly creates a hole in the wall, and destroys itself at the same time. Appliances, 1997, is a collection of electrical devices displayed on a shelf, and connected with cables but for no apparent functional reason. This element of humour and irony, feeding off consumer culture, is key to Kintera’s work.

Designed specifically for the show is a larger version of the 3m-high figure My Light is Your Life, 2009, made from lamps, light fixtures, bulbs and spotlights. Beaming with light and heat, the installation becomes part of the room while simultaneously drawing all energy out of it.

The titles of Kintera’s works are his invented sentences, some clear in their meaning, others open to interpretation. “These works should not need verbal explanation. They are just here and that’s it. Let’s see what they can do without explaining what they are,” he says.

In the exhibition’s title, which Wetzel says is “difficult to explain in one sentence”, Kintera’s Dada-ist use of language spans philosophy and advertisement. “It’s clear and somehow stupid to say ‘I am not you’, but at the same time, it questions the shifting identities we are playing with in our everyday lives,” he says.

Kintera’s work is not cryptic, but it makes elliptical reference to social, political and consumerist issues, drawing inspiration from the world around him.

“I Am Not You”, Museum Tinguely, until 28 September

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