Culture Visual Arts: Sticks, Stones and Human Isolation; Terry Grimley Reviews Exhibitions Devoted to One of the 20th Century's Greatest Sculptors, Alberto Giacometti, and Contemporary Artist James Coleman at Compton Verney

The Birmingham Post (England), March 18, 2008 | Go to article overview

Culture Visual Arts: Sticks, Stones and Human Isolation; Terry Grimley Reviews Exhibitions Devoted to One of the 20th Century's Greatest Sculptors, Alberto Giacometti, and Contemporary Artist James Coleman at Compton Verney


Byline: Terry Grimley

Having enjoyed a vogue in Britain towards the end of his life, the Swiss sculptor Alberto Giacometti (1901-1966) is perhaps now almost in need of rediscovery.

A member of the School of Paris, the international brigade of modernist artists who made the French capital the unquestioned centre of the international art world in the first half of the 20th century, Giacometti flirted with Surrealism in the 1930s but arrived at a mature style in the years following the Second World War with his immediately recognisable full-length figures.

Thin, frail and isolated, they seem to reflect on the human condition at a point where Belsen was a recent revelation and the atom bomb a present threat.

The small but important exhibition just opened at Compton Verney focuses on the period when this mature style emerged - between 1945, when Giacometti returned to Paris from postwar exile in Geneva, and 1957.

Most of the exhibits are on loan from the Alberto and Annette Giacometti Foundation in Paris, but there are also works from the Kunsthaus, Zurich, the Tate and the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Art. The Forest (1950) is representative of the familiar Giacometti style. The figures, equally spaced and standing to attention, have the battered look of rusted industrial relics or ancient archaeological remains, not so much human beings as the trace human beings leave behind.

Giacometti described the genesis of Four Figuerines on a Stand (1950) as the experience of seeing "several nude women in the Sphinx" - presumably a Paris brothel. Their presentation on a stand conveys a sense of distance and aloofness.

The handful of sculptures is supplemented by a number of two-dimensional works including a portrait of the writer Jean Genet and - something new to me - Giacometti's published sketchbook of Paris streetlife, which contrasts in its breezy journalism with the stripped-down essence of the sculpture.

The Irish artist James Coleman (born 1941), who now divides his time between Dublin and Paris, has built an international reputation for audio-visual installations which play with issues of perception and memory.

At Compton Verney he is showing two of them, neither of which has previously been exhibited in the UK. These works have been selected to complement the Giacometti exhibition, perhaps continuing a theme of human isolation.

By far the more interesting of them is I N I T I A L S, made as long ago as 1993-94 and using the now archaic-seeming, if not actually obsolete, format of slide-projection. …

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Culture Visual Arts: Sticks, Stones and Human Isolation; Terry Grimley Reviews Exhibitions Devoted to One of the 20th Century's Greatest Sculptors, Alberto Giacometti, and Contemporary Artist James Coleman at Compton Verney
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