Chaos I is a seven-ton, kinetic sculpture by Swiss artist Jean Tinguely (1925-1991). The 30-foot high piece is the largest work by Tinguely in the United States. Clair Beltz, archivist at the Museum Tinguely in Basil, Switzerland said, “The artist’s philosophy was that everything has to be in motion, like life; if not, it’s not ‘real.’”
It seems fitting that the centerpiece of Columbus, Indiana, a city known for both its great architectural designs and its world-class manufacturing operations, would be a sculpture that successfully marries art and engineering. Tinguely, a colorful character sporting a bushy moustache, took up residence in Columbus’s former city powerhouse near Mill Race Park for nearly two years from 1973 to 1974. Locals have wonderful memories of the artist-in-residence. Tinguely became a regular at the local “watering holes” during that time. He was said to have been delighted by the quality of the scrap he found in local junkyards about town because they provided the raw material for his work.
Chaos I cycles through a series of motions to simulate a day in a life, beginning slowly at first, adding movements and then winding down again. At the peak of its chaotic movements, steel balls roll and crash through a caged track, making a ruckus. So special is Chaos to the community, for the three years that the new Commons was being constructed, it was safely protected in a climate-controlled box while The Commons was razed and rebuilt all around it.
The architect of the original Commons, Cesar Pelli, first suggested to J. Irwin Miller, CEO of Cummins Engine Co., that a sculpture by Tinguely would be the perfect centerpiece to this downtown facility. The structure filled three city blocks and was designed to be a public gathering space, playground, and performance area within an urban shopping mall. Pelli stated, “We would like a great magnet, a focal point such as the old town clock…a place for people to meet and greet one another.” The work was commissioned by J. Irwin and Xenia Irwin Miller and Mrs. Robert Tangeman in late 1971.