The Commons and Chaos I

Chaos Sculpture by Jean Tinguely

The new Commons in downtown Columbus, Indiana is a beautiful, civic space consisting of a children's playground, meeting rooms, exhibit areas, and a multipurpose/performing arts area. A kinetic sculpture called Chaos I is the centerpiece of the building. Weighing almost seven tons and standing 30 feet high, the artwork was created by Swiss sculptor Jean Tinguely.

Architect Cesar Pelli, who designed the original Commons, recommended that Tinguely be chosen to create a sculpture for the large, open space, and Mr. and Mrs. J. Irwin Miller and his sister, Mrs. Robert Tangeman, gave the artwork and the original public area to the city in 1974. After many years of use, the building needed major repairs, and it was decided that it was less expensive to construct a new facility than to repair the original building. In 2008, it was demolished, but the Cesar Pelli superstructure was saved and used as the base for the new Commons.

wrapped chaosPhoto of Chaos' Storage box by Chris CrawlIn order to protect and save Chaos I, a huge, climate-controlled box was built to house the sculpture, and the new building was erected around the artwork! After the heavy construction was completed, the box was removed, and Chaos I was wrapped in heavy plastic to protect it while the inside of the building was finished.

Following more than three years of planning and construction, the facility opened for various activities, including the Columbus East and North High School Prom. The new Commons is owned by the City of Columbus, and Koetter Kim of Boston designed the building. The grand opening took place on Saturday, June 4th, 2011, and Chaos I once again came to life when sixth-grade student Maria Fisher "flipped the switch" to start the sculpture. Photos of Chaos I in storage were provided by Chris Crawl, Technical Director of The Columbus Area Arts Council.

Looking toward main entrance from above Seating area second level South seating area next to performance area looking at the outside terrace area performance area green area on roof

Chaos I by Jean Tinguely

At first glance, it appears that this kinetic or "in motion" sculpture is a whirring, clanging, clanking hunk of junk! A closer look, however, reveals the sense of humor and imagination of its creator, Swiss artist Jean Tinguely.

Chaos I is an artistic and engineering wonder, and kids and adults alike enjoy watching its different movements. Giant lollipop shapes twirl, gears move, and big, metal balls slowly climb up a shaft, drop down and roll through an airy, wire tunnel. There's so much going on at one time that it's hard to catch it all. A moat, of sorts, surrounds the sculpture, and people enjoy tossing pennies into the water and making wishes. Now and then, the money is collected and given to charity.

The artist liked to create sculptures from salvaged metal, and most of the materials for Chaos I were purchased at the Kroot Corporation in Columbus. The company, which has been in business for more than 100 years, is a scrap metal recycling firm. Much of Chaos I was created in the old Pump House building that's located on the White River. When it was time to assemble it, the sculpture parts were moved to The Commons.

Several local craftsmen worked under Mr. Tinguely's direction to build the sculpture. One day, someone who was assembling pieces at the top removed a boot in order to rest his foot. He placed the boot on the sculpture, and when Mr. Tinguely saw it there, he asked him to leave it as part of the art! A year or so later the boot was removed, but it was put back on the sculpture when the public noticed it missing and demanded its return. The artist, who had a great sense of humor, would have been pleased.

Jean Tinguely's work was introduced in America in 1960 at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. Homage to New York was a kinetic sculpture that was supposed to destroy itself. Something went wrong, however, and a few New York City firemen helped finish it off! In speaking about his work, the artist said, "Life is movement. Everything transforms itself, everything modifies itself ceaselessly, and to try to stop it . . . seems to me a mockery of the intensity of life." Mr. Tinguely was very pleased with Chaos I, and it was one of his favorite sculptures. It is well loved by Columbus children, too.

Learn more about our buildings and their architects at the Columbus Visitors Center, and visit the Jean Tinguely Museum to see more of the famous sculptor’s work.

For more information about The Commons, call (812) 376-2681 or visit



In a college textbook entitled Launching the Imagination (2011), the McGraw-Hill Companies published a photo of Chaos I, which appears in A Kid's Columbus. Larry E. Brackney, who is The Imagination Factory’s webmaster and photographer, took the picture. To see the photo and more pictures of Chaos I as it appeared in the original Commons, click on the small images below:

Click on any of the small images below for a larger version.

Old commons chaos image Old commons chaos image Old commons chaos image
Old Commons chaos closeup Old Commons chaos closeup Old Commons chaos closeup
Old Commons chaos closeup Old Commons Chaos from above Old Commons Chaos closeup

© 2011 Marilyn J. Brackney, All Rights Reserved

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