Magazine article Sculpture

London

Magazine article Sculpture

London

Article excerpt

Alberto Giacometti

Tate Modern

The U.K.'s first major retrospective of Alberto Giacometti in 20 years, made possible through unparalleled access to the collection and archive of the Fondation Alberto et Annette Giacometti in Paris, contained more than 250 works, including some extremely fragile and rarely displayed pieces. Although Giacometti is revered for his bronzes, the exhibition showcased a number of works in plaster and clay, repositioning him as an artist with an inherently experimental approach and farreaching proficiency in materials. Giacometti arrived in Paris in 1922 from the Italian part of Switzerland, a move that dramatically altered the course of his artistic trajectory. Forced to abandon years of academic training, he broke from traditional forms to concentrate on simplification and the formal reduction of the avant-garde, which eventually brought him into step with his contemporaries.

The first gallery presented a surging crowd of more than 20 busts and heads, many representing Giacometti's intimates and associates. This selection offered an animated prologue to the extraordinary variety of his oeuvre, spanning the period 1917-65 and encompassing everything from the traditionally rendered images of his youth to the flattened tautness of his maturity. Portraits of those he held dear-his parents, brother Diego, wife Annetteappeared alongside depictions of acquaintances. A painted plaster bust of Flora Mayo shows a crudely rendered, blowzy individual, while his representation of Simone de Beauvoir is undeniably exquisite. Viewers encountered some of these characters repeatedly over the course of the exhibition, their familiar presence holding out hope against the darkened severity of his walking, pointing, emaciated survivors of the Holocaust.

Giacometti's work is inseparable from the turbulence of his era, which went from postwar euphoria to prewar angst to postwar trauma. During this time, his figures became increasingly ambiguous in composition, and in the seminal Man and Woman (1928-29), the dream-like dimension beginning to surface is charged with open aggression. The two personages confront each other like warriors engaged in battle; their compact tension is generated through an interplay of projections and indentations that create almost intolerable feelings of anguish. This work was installed alongside other equally mesmerizing sculptures, including Hour of the Traces (1930), a fragile, open construction supporting unspecified forms and a low-hanging, heart-shaped pendulum; Suspended Ball (1930-31), which resulted in an invitation for Giacometti to join the Surrealists; and the ever-excruciating Caught Hand (1932).

After the war, Giacometti developed an unforgettable sculptural language, working toward a new perception of reality governed by the figure in space, as seen in the iconic Man Pointing (1947). The figure gestures theatrically, as if trying to engage with an audience, bony arms uplifted and one extended finger prodding the air in an accusatory manner. Giacometti often worked at great speed, only to destroy the results and begin again, and Man Pointing was no exception. Made in one overnight sitting, it was demolished and remade, the plaster still wet on its transportation to the foundry for casting. The work was first shown with its left arm encircling another figure, but this second plaster was never cast in bronze; it was subsequently destroyed, leaving Man Pointing forever enigmatic and alone. …

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