Alberto Giacometti – one walking and thinking man on the road of the art

Alberto Giacometti and his sculptures at the Venice Biennale, 1956. Photo: © Archives of the Giacometti Foundation - Tate Modern’s ambitious and wide-ranging exhibition brings together over 250 works.
– The gallery presents the UK’s first major retrospective of the artist for 20 years.

LONDON. Celebrated as a sculptor, painter and draughtsman, Alberto Giacometti’s distinctive elongated figures are some of the most instantly recognisable works of modern art. This exhibition in Tate Modern (from 10 May to 10 October 2017) reasserts Giacometti’s place alongside the likes of Henri Matisse (1869-1954), Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) and Edgar Degas (1834-1917) as one of the great painter-sculptors of the 20th century. Through unparalleled access to the extraordinary collection and archive of the Fondation Alberto et Annette Giacometti, Paris, Tate Modern’s ambitious and wide-ranging exhibition brings together over 250 works. It includes rarely seen plasters and drawings which have never been exhibited before and showcases the full evolution of Giacometti’s career across five decades, from early works such as Head of a Woman – Flora Mayo (1926) to iconic bronze sculptures such as Walking Man I (1960).

Alberto Giacometti, ‘Man Pointing’, 1947. Bronze, 178 x 95 x 52 cm. Tate, Purchased, 1949. Photo: © Alberto Giacometti Estate, ACS/DACS, 2017Alberto Giacometti was born in Switzerland in 1901. He grew up in Switzerland in the Val Bregaglia alpine valley, a few kilometers from the Swiss-Italian border. His father, Giovanni Giacometti (1868-1933) was an impressionist painter esteemed by Swiss collectors and artists, recalls He shared his thoughts with his son on art and the nature of art. Alberto Giacometti produced his first oil painting – Still Life with Apples (c. 1915) and first sculpted bust – Diego (c.1914-1915) in his father’s studioat the age of fourteen. His father and his godfather, the Symbolist painter Cuno Amiet (1868-1961) were two crucial figures in young Alberto’s artistic development. In 1922, Giacometti went to Paris to study, enrolling in the Académie de la Grande-Chaumière, where he attended classes given by the sculptor Antoine Bourdelle (1861-1929). Drawings of nudes attest both to this apprenticeship and, like his earliest Cubist sculptures, to the influence of Jacques Lipchitz (1891-1973) and Fernand Léger (1881-1955).

Giacometti’s work shows the influence of African and Oceanian sculpture. When the young artist developed an interest in African art in 1926, it was no longer a novelty for the modern artists of the previous generation – Picasso, André Derain (1880-1954) – it had even become popularized to the point of becoming decorative.

In 1928, Giacometti embarked on a series of women and flat heads, whose novel quality earned him acclaim in 1929, and resulted in his first contract with the Pierre Loeb gallery, which exhibited the Surrealists. Several later works, including some outstanding painted plasters and one or two paintings, show how non-western art had a lasting influence on his output. The artist moved away from naturalist and academic representation, in favour of a totemic and at times wild vision of the figure, filled with a magical power, adds Fondation Alberto et Annette Giacometti’s website.

Giacometti joined André Breton’s (1896-1966) Surrealist movement in 1931, as an active member of Breton’s group, Giacometti in no time stood out as one of its rare sculptors. Despite his being expelled in February 1935, surrealist procedures continued to play an important part in his creative work: dreamlike visions, montage and assemblage, objects with metaphorical functions, and magical treatment of the figure.

Alberto Giacometti, ‘Woman with her Throat Cut’, 1932. Bronze (cast 1949), 22 x 75 x 58 cm. National Galleries of Scotland. Photo: © Alberto Giacometti Estate, ACS/DACS, 2017Celebrated works such as Woman with her Throat Cut (1932) reveal Giacometti’s engagement with surrealism as well as his powerful explorations of brutality and sadism. A wide range of the artist’s large scale sculptures are also showcased alongside his drawings and books. Other works like Untitled – mask (1934) demonstrate his engagement with the decorative arts, while Man – Apollo (1929) and The Chariot (1950) show his preoccupation with Egyptian and African art. The exhibition reveals how Giacometti, perhaps more than any other artist of his day, fused the ancient and the modern and broke down barriers between the decorative and the fine arts.

Giacometti left Paris in 1941, relocating to Geneva until the end of the Second World War (1939-1945). Having moved away from surrealism, he became interested in scale and perspective and began to work on much smaller sculptures in a more realistic style as in Very Small Figurine (c.1937-1939). Following the war and his return to Paris,

Alberto Giacometti, ‘Head of Woman (Flora Mayo)’, 1926. Painted plaster, 31.2 x 23.2 x 8.4 cm. Collection Fondation Alberto et Annette Giacometti, Paris. Photo: © Alberto Giacometti Estate, ACS/DACS, 2017Giacometti began creating the elongated
figures for which he is best known

Working from life, his preoccupation with the alienated and isolated figure became an important motif, embodying the post-war climate of existential despair. The exhibition includes an astounding selection of such masterpieces including Man Pointing (1947), Falling Man (1950) and The Hand (1947) as well as many of Giacometti’s major paintings like Diego Seated (1948) and Caroline in a Red Dress (c.1964-1965).

While Giacometti is best known for his bronze figures, Tate Modern is repositioning him as an artist with a far wider interest in materials and textures, especially plaster and clay. The elasticity and malleability of these media allowed him to work in an inventive way, continuously reworking and experimenting with plaster to create his distinctive highly textured and scratched surfaces. A large number of these fragile plaster works which rarely travel are being shown for the first time in this exhibition including Giacometti’s celebrated Women of Venice (1956). Created for the Venice Biennale, this group of important works are brought together for the first time since their creation.

Giacometti was chosen to represent France at the 1956 Venice Biennale. He showed a group of newly made plaster sculptures for the exhibition, all of which depict an elongated standing female nude. These works represent a crucial stage in Giacometti’s artistic development and were the result of the study of his wife Annette, one of his most important models. The sculptures can be seen as a culmination
of the artist’s lifelong experimentations to depict the reality of the human form.

Alberto Giacometti, ‘Woman of Venice’ V, 1956. Painted plaster, 113.5 x 14.5 x 31.8 cm. Collection Fondation Alberto et Annette Giacometti, Paris. Photo: © Alberto Giacometti Estate, ACS/DACS, 2017The exhibition also explores some
of the key figures in the artist’s life

who were vital to his work including his wife Annette Giacometti (1923-1993), his brother Diego Giacometti (1902-1985) and his late mistress Caroline. Giacometti’s personal relationships were an enduring influence throughout his career and he continuously used friends and family as models. One room in the exhibition focusses specifically on portraits demonstrating Giacometti’s intensely observed images of the human face and figure.

Thanks to unparalleled access to the Fondation Alberto et Annette Giacometti’s extraordinary collection and archive, Tate Modern has been able to bring together these rarely seen works. The extensive restoration project carried out by the Fondation offer visitors a new perspective on Giacometti’s working methods. The works have been returned to their original state showing the paintwork and penknife marks not visible on the later bronze casts. The exhibition also include other important plaster sculptures, drawings and sketch books that have never been shown before, including The Nose (c.1947-1949), Medium Figure III (1948-1949) and Woman Leoni (1947-1958).

The Exhibition Alberto Giacometti is curated by Frances Morris, Director, Tate Modern and Catherine Grenier, Director, Chief Curator, Fondation Alberto et Annette Giacometti, Paris with Lena Fritsch, Assistant Curator, Tate Modern in collaboration with Mathilde Lecuyer, Associate Curator, Fondation Alberto et Annette Giacometti. The exhibition is organised by Tate Modern and Fondation Alberto et Annette Giacometti, Paris. It will be accompanied by a catalogue from Tate Publishing, co-edited by Frances Morris and Lena Fritsch, with Catherine Grenier and Mathilde Lecuyer.

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