Swiss Sculptor and Painter
Stampa, Graubunden, Switzerland
Chur, Graubunden, Switzerland
Summary of Alberto Giacometti
Alberto Giacometti's remarkable career traces the shifting enthusiasms of European art before and after the Second World War. As a Surrealist in the 1930s, he devised innovative sculptural forms, sometimes reminiscent of toys and games. And as an Existentialist after the war, he led the way in creating a style that summed up the philosophy's interests in perception, alienation and anxiety. Although his output extends into painting and drawing, the Swiss-born and Paris-based artist is most famous for his sculpture. And he is perhaps best remembered for his figurative work, which helped make the motif of the suffering human figure a popular symbol of post-war trauma.
- Giacometti's work of the 1930s represents probably the most important contribution to Surrealist sculpture. In an effort to explore themes derived from Freudian psychoanalysis, like sexuality, obsession and trauma, he developed a variety of different sculptural objects. Some were influenced by primitive art, but perhaps most striking were those that resemble games, toys, and architectural models. They almost encourage the viewer to physically interact with them, an idea which was very radical at the time.
- In the late 1930s, Giacometti abandoned abstraction and Surrealism, becoming more interested in how to represent the human figure in a convincing illusion of real space. He wanted to depict figures in such a way as to capture a palpable sense of spatial distance, so that we, as viewers, might share in the artist's own sense of distance from his model, or from the encounter that inspired the work. The solution he arrived at involved whittling the figures down to the slenderest proportions.
- Giacometti's post-war achievement - finding a language through which to represent the figure in real space - impressed the many writers of the period who were interested in Phenomenology and Existentialism. Both of these philosophies contained ideas about self-consciousness and how we relate to other human beings, and Giacometti's art was thought to powerfully capture the tone of melancholy, alienation and loneliness that these ideas suggested.
- Although the 1950s art world of both Europe and the United States was dominated by abstract painting, Giacometti's figurative sculpture came to be a hugely influential model of how the human figure might return to art. His figures represented human beings alone in the world, turned in on themselves and failing to communicate with their fellows, despite their overwhelming desire to reach out.
Biography of Alberto Giacometti
Calling it “a complete transformation of reality,” Giacometti was struck by a vision after leaving a cinema in Paris. Trembling with fear, he entered a familiar café and was met by a waiter, “his eyes fixed in an absolute immobility.” Subsequently, he began sculpting the tall emaciated figures with prominent heads that evoked the existential angst of the post World War II era.
Important Art by Alberto Giacometti
In his early years, Giacometti often experienced difficulty in sculpting from life. In this despair, he began to work from memory. The early plaster bust Gazing Head, arguably the artist's first truly original work, illustrates the culmination of this effort. The flatness of the head and face - Giacometti's economical placement of smooth divots for definition - result in a bust that is at once abstract and figurative. And yet the underlying theme of the work, the act of gazing, invites viewers to ponder whether what they are looking at is in fact a mirror. When Gazing Head was first exhibited in Paris in 1929, it immediately grabbed the attention of the French Surrealists, beginning an association that would cement the early part of Giacometti's career.
Although works like Gazing Head caught the attention of the Surrealists, it was Suspended Ball, first exhibited at Galerie Pierre in 1930, that prompted André Breton to invite Giacometti to join the group. The sculpture's white globular form - at once floating freely and trapped in a cage - and the enigmatic segment below it, all evinced the dream-like and erotic qualities that the Surrealists adored. In fact, following the 1930 group exhibition, Salvador Dalí contributed an article on Surrealist objects for Breton's periodical, inspired by Suspended Ball. Despite this association with Breton's group, critics have also associated the sculpture with the ideas of Breton's rival, Georges Bataille. It has been argued that the elements in the sculpture are deliberately enigmatic, since while they seem to suggest a sexual act, it is unclear which element is male and which female. This confusion of categories has been said to encapsulate Bataille's notion of informe, or formlessness.
Hands Holding the Void illustrates how Giacometti started to stray from the Surrealists after his brief association with the group. It was created as a monument to the artist's recently deceased father, embracing what the critic Carl Einstein called a "metaphysical realism." It incorporates certain primitive and Egyptian elements. The void the figure is holding is possibly the soul, or what the Egyptians called kâ. While the Surrealists embraced this work, the figurative elements indicate that the artist was beginning to move beyond them.
Influences and Connections
Useful Resources on Alberto Giacometti
- A Giacometti PortraitOur PickBy James Lord
- In Giacometti's StudioBy Michael Peppiatt
- Giacometti (2009)By Ulf Kuster, Pierre-Emanuel Martin-Vivier
- Alberto Giacometti: Retrospective (2010)By Donat Rutiman, Thierry Dufrene, Nadia Schneider, Alberto Giacometti
- Alberto Giacometti: Works, Writings, Interviews (Essentials Poligrafa) (2007)Our PickBy Angel Gonzalez, Alberto Giacometti
- Alberto Giacometti (2002)By Felix Baumann, Christian Klemm, Alberto Giacometti
- Alberto GiacomettiBy Yves Bonnefoy
- Alberto Giacometti: A Retrospective Exhibition (1974)By Ulf Kuster, Pierre-Emanuel Martin-Vivier
- "The Giacomettis' Decorative Works"By Rita Reif / The New York Times / May 24, 1987
- "Art in Review" - 'Alberto Giacometti: Sculpture' at Gagosian GalleryOur PickBy Roberta Smith / The New York Times / June 11, 1993
- "The human race, handled with care"Our PickBy Laura Cumming / The Observer / March 23, 2008
- "Alberto Giacometti: Drawings"By Alix Finkelstein / The Brooklyn Rail / June 2009
- "At London Sale, a Giacometti Sets a Record"Our PickBy Carol Vogel / The New York Times / February 3, 2010
- "Copyright Protection Is Not am Artistic Hurdle But a Legal Right"By Veronique Wiesinger / Artinfo.com / April 21, 2011