Rodin in his time: Biographical materials saved from the Web


Alberto Giacometti (1901-1966)

For biography see:
Photo left: Ernst Scheidegger, ca. 1960,  in "Sculpture in the Light of Photography", Benteli Verlag, 1997, Bern.

Aspects of the art of Alberto Giacometti

Text archive copy of
Image: Guggenheim Museum

Neue Zürcher Zeitung Feb. 26, 1967
Literature and Art

By Eduard Hüttlinger

Artworks, and this includes contemporary artworks, if they are not to be misinterpreted owing to a falsely understood notion of avant-gardism that renders all its most recent achievements and sensations absolute, require a double mental effort of appropriation - in terms of the historical field and of that of artistic sensibility, which itself changes in the course of time and is defined by contemporary life. In other words, the attempt here is to show that Giacometti's artistic world is more closely and vibrantly related to the early possibilities of sculptural figuration than is usually accepted.

Today there are sculptors who are world famous and whose activities take place before the eyes of the interested general public - a phenomenon that is rarely considered. In the 19th century the key artistic decisions taken were made by painters; sculpture was in an unprecedented state of crisis. In his review of the "Salons" of 1846 Baudelaire included a short section on the sculptures displayed there. Ths section started with a general discussion under the surprising heading "Pourquoi la sculpture est ennuyeuse." This sounds like a programmatic declaration. Baudelaire, as incisive an art critic as he was a poet, was of the opinion sculpture lacked the ability to be "modern". This is a trenchant announcement of the decline of sculpture in the 19th century. Not until Rodin did it become a means of creative expression of its day and age. 

The leading role played by painting continued for a long time to be expressed by the fact that it was painters who, as it were on the side, also created the decisive works as sculptors; we need think only of Géricault, Daumier, Degas, or Gauguin - compared with their sculptural designs the "official" sculpture of the 19th century, that which the "professional" sculptors produced can, if viewed as a whole, be considered to have a conventional academic, historical and eclectic face. Even at the beginning of the 20the century, the "avant-garde" painters - such as Picasso, Matisse, Braque, Derain, Modigliani and Boccioni - in good part also defined "avant-garde" sculpture. And in order to gain the significance which it has today in the public eye, sculpture had to first extract itself from the spell of painting. This has been the achievement of sculpture in the 20th century, starting from such diametrically opposed positions as those of Rodin and Maillol. 

It is of little import what major currents in the history of modern sculpture we focus on, for, put summarily: be it the preservation of a humanistic image of man with roots in Classical Antiquity, or "concrete" sculpture or the permeation of abstract and somehow figurative constellations - the balance is more opulent than any a critical observer only half a century ago would have ever dreamed it could be: a blossoming of sculpture of an extraordinary quality. The most evident symptom of this upturn is the fact that sculpture, even without official, state support or other forms of funding, has succeeded in creating valid symbols of the basic forces driving our age. This turn of events is primarily the result of efforts of a generation born "around 1900", that has proved to be possibly the most talented. Alongside Henry Moore (born 1898), Alexander Calder (born 1898) and Marino Marini (born 1901) we should first and foremost mention Alberto Giacometti (1901 to 1966).

Woman Walking (Femme qui marche), 1932. 
Plaster, 150 cm high, including base. 
Peggy Guggenheim Collection. 
© Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris.


In 1948, under the title "La recherche de l'absolu" Jean-Paul Sartre for the first time wrote about Alberto Giacometti. Six years later he again addressed the latter's oeuvre, whereby the focus was now on Giacometti's paintings. In 1957, Jean Genet then took the stage with comments on Alberto Giacometti. We can judge this as a significant indication of his merit, over and above the superficial fame that Alberto Giacometti enjoyed, among other things owing to the strong basis it was given by Sartre's intervention. Sartre admittedly also wrote on other members of the visual arts, such as Calder and, at great length, on Tintoretto; yet these essays are less well known - not least because (and this is especially true of Sartre's Tintoretto essay) for all the highly original interpretative approaches they all too clearly raped the intentions of the artists in question. 

As regards Alberto Giacometti, by contrast, both Sartre and Genet have in their reflections shed light on decisive sides of Giacometti's art, or at least as it has emerged since the 1940s. In other words, assigning Alberto Giacometti's art to the banner of "existentialism" is a legitimate device; the statement that it lends form to a type of existential symbolism of fate, as Werner Hofmann has suggested, may indeed be something to which at a very general level that oeuvre can lay claim.

The work of Giacometti certainly cuts to the quick for the artistically sensitive contemporary, especially the adolescent members thereof, presenting the key traits of "modern" consciousness and a feel for life today visually paraphrased in a manner unparalleled by any other artist of the age. Admittedly, this says little or nothing about the "absolute", enduring artistic ranking of Giacometti's oeuvre; but this does account for its fascinating, decidedly emotive topicality. An artistic achievement is no firmly circumscribed variable, but instead possesses its own historical future in which it gradually reveals its unmistakable essence. Without a doubt, as regards Giacometti's creations there is thus no "objective distance" or "historical distance", as it tends to be called. However, these concepts prove to be pure abstraction on closer inspection; essentially, the older and old art does not remain spared radical fluctuations in evaluation - these fluctuations are identical with the importance attached through time to an artistic phenomena; they are the expression of the liveliness of the artwork itself. The fact that, incidentally, in the case of Alberto Giacometti there are almost no instances of neutral disinterested viewers, and instead negative or positive statements on his oeuvre, depending on the whether they grab the viewer or not was evidenced most clearly by the dispute in Zürich over setting up an Alberto Giacometti Foundation. Be it this way or that, Giacometti's oeuvre shines forth strongly.


Photo: Ernst Scheidegger, ca. 1960,  in "Sculpture in the Light of Photography", Benteli Verlag, 1997, Bern.

Giacometti's earliest works, namely his paintings (because, from the outset he was active as a sculptor and a painter; matched only by Marino Marini among modern artists he could easily have made Leonardo da Vinci's proud words his own: "Since I concern myself no less with sculpture as with painting and exercise both to an equal degree . . ."), are indebted to tradition and "nature" to the extent that following the role model of his father Giovanni Giacometti, they take up Neoimpressionist traits; the first sculptures came under the spell of the generally wide-spread attempts of the day to follow in Rodin's footsteps.

From about 1925 to 1928, Giacometti succeeded in developing his own personal idiom in Cubist sculptures full of idol-like, silent and restrained structures. The beginning was marked by the "Torso" of 1925 in which for the first time a fundamental artistic principle Giacometti used comes to light, namely fragmentation. Probably, the "Torso" was inspired by Brancusi's "Torso of a Young Man", created two years earlier. For all the concurrence between the two compositions, Giacometti abandons Brancusi's clear symmetry and "classical" order in favor of sluggish motion; the tense interwoven nature of the shifts in form condenses in the coarse restless treatment of the surface (Giacometti was able to learn such possible sculptural effects from his teacher Bourdelle) to create charged expression, whereas Brancusi, the New Greek among the 20th century sculptors, rises to the sphere of pure idea using the medium of perfect, reflective polish.

With this torso, the young Giacometti advanced into an area which marked out the very marrow of modern sculpture. For ever since its deliberate formal use by Rodin the torso signified most overtly the abstract nature of sculpture. In 1925, Giacometti still used the torso as an "absolute autonomous figure" with an essentially "non-fragmentary character" (J. A. Schmoll gen. Eisenwerth), such as had first been adopted by Archipenko; later, in the rod-like over-long figures, it received a decidedly symbolic touch. However, it almost remains the central statement of this art, in line with Giacometti's word: "I view only one part of the body but it creates the feeling that the whole exists."

By means of sculptural formations such as "Femme cuiller" (1926-7) and "Le couple" (1926), constructions made of elemental Cubist corporeal hieroglyphs, which reconquer in nudes by deliberately primitivizing sculpture that ancient domain of the magical mechanical, Giacometti finally arrived at Surrealism - Carola Giedion-Welcker has rightly stated that he was the only significant sculptor in the Surrealist movement. The question how much Giacometti was indebted to Picasso here could only be answered duly in the light of the major Paris Picasso exhibition this winter, which for the first time brought together all his sculptures; the significance, for example, of "Construction en fil métallique" of 1930 on Giacometti cannot be underestimated.

If only by dint of the mainly material substrate used (wood, plaster, iron, combined materials), the Surrealist epoch (1929-1934) possesses unity. Surrealistic-abstract elements blend, as in the figuration entitled "On ne joue plus" (1932) or the "Projet pour une place" (1931) on a joint plinth - to offer a highly contrasting interplay of corporeal and spatial volumes. Vaulted protrusion corresponds to trough-like furrow; spherical and conical formations bring ghost-like life to the scenery of these mysterious sculptural landscapes that banish any pretentiousness from these still-life-like, three-dimensional projects for squares. There are historical sources of inspiration - as has long since been recognized - in a piece such as the Etruscan bronze liver from Piacenza. This votive offering is a document of the astrological-Mantic practices: the smooth plate from which these innards arise as the houses of the gods, is structured in sectors with the names of gods and refers to stellar constellations so that the regularity of the cosmos appears to be mirrored magically.
Giacometti's art evidently has no cultic purpose; there is a secret affinity only from the formal perspective: the religious substance of the "model" is secularized to engender a symbolism that is convincing as artistic and aesthetic creation.

The earnest exercises relating to appropriation of the basic elements of sculptural creation of figuration, corporeality, motion, and space take the most singular of forms in the inventions that are the "cages". The venues now ("La boule suspendue", 1930) set themselves off from the natural habitat in the form of cages or scaffolds; they become a stage on which the Surrealist rites of the magic of things unravels in the enclosed zone of their own, enigmatic dreamworld - with that miraculous suggestion, now given haptic form, that had already been evoked in the pittura metafisica of Giorgio de Chirico and Carrà.
The group of these early sculptures, and they have about them the aura of textbook fame, culminates in "Palais à quatre heures" (1932). The filigree dream palace is inhabited by strange beings, a bird-like skeleton, a bent spine, a sphere, a female figure - which irrespective of the fact that each lives in its own isolated cell, seem to give themselves over to a mysterious floating, oscillating spatial coexistence. In "Charbon d'herbe", one of his most poetic texts, Alberto Giacometti described a vision which directly brings to mind what he had designed in "Palais à quatre heures": "Je tourne dans le vide et je regarde l'espace et les astres en plein midi qui courent à travers l'argent liquide qui m'entoure . . . Je reviens aux constructions qui m'amusent et qui vivent dans leur surréalité; un beau palais; le parquet de dés blancs aux points noirs et rouges sur lesquels on marche, les colonnes en fusées, le plafond en air qui rit et les jolis mécanismes précis qui ne servent à rien . . . Oh! palais palais!"

After 1945, Giacometti's works from the Surrealist years enjoyed a real career in an epoch, if on a different basis, for which Duchamp's moving apparatuses constructed in the spirit of Dada as well as certain experiments in the geometric Constructivsm of Naum Gabo were also so important. To cite one example: Jean Tinguely's "Antimachine" displayed at the Schweizerische Landesausstellung at Expo 1964 in Lausanne. These and other mobile montages - there are also sculptural playful movements in light and water - are typical phenomena in the spectrum of sculpture today, for which Lessing's purist fixation of the boundary lines of art, one of the foundations of Classical aesthetics, has lost all validity. They reject, to a far greater extent than Giacometti's Surrealist works, what sculpture has developed by way of aesthetically defining factors since its separation from architecture. They take the stage as ironic presentation and at the same time a travesty of the world of machinery and technology, precisely as (more or less) "jolis mécanismes précis qui ne servent à rien". A border-line area of sculpture opens up, not in the direction of painting but of the presentation of physical processes. The "mobilization" of three-dimensional structures and the limitless interrogation of materials run the risk of being reduced in the artworks in art and miracle chambers. Not only the traditional concept of sculpture, but also the traditional concept of art seems to no longer be practical. The painter Jean Dubuffet (someone who should know) has, as a legitimate spokesman, gave the problem a trenchant twist: "I like it when painting lies on the borders of what is no longer painting."

With "Femme qui marche" (1933), who walks into the distance headless and on long legs as if in a trance, and most certainly with "Mains, tenant le vide" (1934), (works which, for all the proximity to African sculpture, exhibit calmly smoothed extensive volumes and melodiously elegant lines) attest to the break with programmatic Surrealism. This is identical with the turn toward studying nature and figuration. Giacometti starts to focus on the human figure: from now on it remains the cardinal theme at least of his sculptural work. Now, in repeatedly new creative attempts he starts making those figurations which one first thinks of when hearing or speaking the name Alberto Giacometti. However much the scale of these figurations may change - in the experiments of his Geneva years (1940-5), in large part destroyed, they had an extremely miniature format of one and a half centimeters, and have thus have fled reality into some remote visual image - they nevertheless reveal a uniform creative intention. They can be boiled down to a common denominator: the focus is on reduction, of material, the individual, of expression. The formal vehicle of reduction is over-lengthening, ossified, fissured volcanic, rigidified lava surface; the corporeal contracts; the human figure is a specter-like outline, linear diluted, sign consumed by the power of space, gestural figure, from which the sensory intrusive physical has been banished - visualization of existential danger, nothingness, the threat of figuration, the individual's loneliness and feeling of being lost given infinite space, all taken to the point of the symbolic. These are, after all, the elements which Sartre had traced thanks to his congenial sensibility when writing about Giacometti.

This image of the human stands, if considered in terms of its genuineness, alone in the history of Western sculpture. I know of only one literary source for the intellectual Concetto which defines it consciously or unconsciously, namely a passage in the Old Testament, Genesis, Chap. 19, Verses 24-26: "Then the Lord rained upon Sodom and upon Gomorrah brimstone and fire from the Lord out of heaven; An he overthres those cities, and all the plain, and all the inhabitants ofthe cities, and that which grew upon the ground. But his wife looked back from behind him, and she became a pillar of salt." In other words: this miage of the human seems to have gone through apocalyptic catastrophes and come out the other side: it is an endangered relic. This is where it sources its tragically tense seriousness, but also (as shown in the towering verticality) its obdurate resilience. On occasion, especially when confronted by the configurations with group-like aggregations of figures, we may be reminded of bare tree trunks reaching upwards, of vegetation raped by the storms of life - it is not coincidental that one of these groupings is called "La forêt". Indeed, Giacometti repeatedly narrated that viewing a forest gave him a sense of how the vertical growth of fixed tree trunks could be entrancing. Thus, these statues and statuettes can be located in that sphere in which the dead column of salt gradually transforms into an evolving form of vegetation.

Etruscan votive statues (and their formal principle is the anti-Classical trend towards over-extension) strongly influenced Giacometti, or so he stated. Moreover, Jacques Callot's art, which he so revered, may have served to inspire him; in the Late Mannerist spatial tension developed by Callot, who subordinates everything figurative to insect-like swarms, precisely positioned as they are, we find the manifestation of a related artistic vision. Giacometti's figures also bear a phenomenological affinity to some of those Barqoue bronzes of anatomical muscle-men, at least in terms of intention.

With his contemplative approach to the human figure, the factual realization of this basic type once devised was expressed in highly differing solutions. There are the static and the striding single figures, that can dissolve into almost line- or wire-like skeletons - expressive transformations of the deficient form of Rodin's "strider" into some impersonal anonymity, itself a new interpretation of "John the Baptist", of which Rilke wrote: "He walks. He walks as if all the worlds in the world were in him and if he spread them out before him by walking. He walks. His arms speak of this walking, and his fingers spread out and seem to make the sign of walking in the air."

Giacometti subjects the head and the portrait bust to a deformation similar to that of the figure. Geared to a flat profiled silhouette, face on the heads seem to be frozen to masks, with a sharp perspectival loss of the fissured surfaces of the sides toward some unknown vanishing point, somewhere out in imaginary space. "The distance from the one nostril to the other resembles a Sahara; there can be no limits, to fixed point, everything slipped away " - these words of his (from a "Letter to Pierre Matisse", the most famous letter by a contemporary artist) emphasizes the extraordinary wish to alienate figuration, as can be seen so passionately at work here. The problem of fragmentation, the torso, re-appears, most impressively with the "Hand" dating from 1947: a thin, slightly bent arm ends in a long boney hand that grows out into nothingness with great suggestiveness. Again we find ourselves referred to Rodin if we ask what the historical basis for this was: Rodin compiled numerous studies of hands, initially naturalistic expressive fragments, in part as drafts for the "Burghers of Calais" - and they were finally lent symbolic-religious meaning in the work named "La cathédrale" and which, as Schmoll aka Eisenwerth has shown, should be seen as hands as secularized relics.

Giacometti massed the static individual figures to form a group, the location of which is fixed by the floor plate. This composition of the individual figures on specific venues takes up the Surrealist groupings; Giacometti has them emerge in various ways: the figures can move the baseplate wobbling in various directions or occupy it hieratically and ceremoniously towering upwards. Or they are transposed into display cases and spatial cages on stilts. "La forêt" of 1950 embodies the extremes of absolute immobility and restless fixation of the statuettes on a free baseplate, i.e., one no longer supplemented to form a cage. Seven over-lengthy figures, five larger, two smaller, populate, completely static and calm, with closed legs, arms squeezed to their sides, very small heads and powerful clumpy feet that hold the base fast, a right-angled bronze plate that rests on four post-like short supports and which seems to have bent under the weight of the figures above. The bust of a man joins the seven figures as additional accentuation. It sets itself brusquely off from the surface of the baseplate, there is no transition; its head with its somberly visionary animated face is set atop a thin stamen of a throat.

Giacometti's spatial configurations with these group-like aggregations of figures enrich 20th-century European sculpture to include a fundamentally new form of statement; on the other hand, they radicalize a problem of representation, for which there are parallels in the European sculptural endeavor. The last sculptor before Giacometti to tussle with similar formal and expressive matters was none other of course than Auguste Rodin. Giacometti's spatial configuration with their group-like aggregations of figures seem like a late response to Rodin's "Burghers of Calais", defined by Giacometti's individual creative approach and the mood in the post-War era. The "Burghers of Calais", that description of an event in the 100-year war between France and England, the voluntary sacrifice of six citizens, constituted a clear rejection of any pathos-laden heroic stance as championed hitherto in the history of monuments, and thus marked the decisive overcoming of the 19th century and its vacuous, individualistically externalized, modish and thus very dated cult of the monument. All means of representation were bent to this end. Rodin's group is a symbol of heroically suffering distress presented with merciless realism, and yet likewise a highly differentiated depiction of the different physical and psychological responses to the shared fate of the circling, complex movement of the six figures. Moreover, in the form of the "Burghers of Calais" we see the negation of declamatory monumental poses, for their is no plinth, no distanced glorifying pedestal. The fact that in Calais itself the monument was initially presented for several decades on a high base for all Rodin's personal intentions merely falsified its underlying thrust: to embed a human drama depicted in art in the midst of everyday reality.

The wish to achieve as close a position to life as possible is combined in the Rodin work with recourse to related formulations from old European art. The bitingly sharp naturalism of the sculptural details of the "Burgher of Calais" has been rendered precise by Donatello and the Late Gothic sculptures of Sluter - these are well-known facts. However, the formal structure of the group as a whole is animated, and Rodin himself pointed this out, by the stylistic principle of the various freestanding versions of Mt. Calvary in Brittany and Flanders as well as the Late Gothic funeral processions and lamentations of Christ - a type of picture that was wide-spread from Late Gothic times through to the Baroque. The paramount pinnacle of this genre was, alongside the oeuvre of Guido Mazzoni, Niccolò dell'Arca's sculptural group "Sepulcrum" in S. Maria della Vita zu Bologna (1463): the passionately agitated, ecstatic lamentation of the dead Savior almost occurs level with the ground, in a proximity to reality such that it does not want to be "art" but physically-defined cultic procession that competes with the religious lay plays, the Sacra Rappresentazione.

Seen in formal terms, for Giacometti, as with Rodin's "Burghers of Calais" and the related older works, the composition is defined by the problem of the human group not constrained by aesthetic limits in the space of everyday human life. In addition to this substantive concurrence there is no other point of comparison, however - it ends at the level of intellectual statement. The "Burgher of Calais" combines joint action and emotion to form a powerful unity of action; Giacometti's figures in "La forêt" and the other spatial configurations, by contrast, are no longer able to order themselves to form a group according to some artistic principle, in other words to become some part of a formal whole, for they are not individual images of humans, but, in metaphorical exaggeration and for all the specter-like remoteness of the figures, but embody the anonymity of modern urban collective life as an inescapable fact, "naked, exposed to the frost of this most unhappy age..." (Kafka, A Country Doctor). However, the loss of figure and of group membership in the traditional sense cannot be separated from a gain: the hallucinatory expression with which the overall figuration is charged. This is the artistic impact of these works.

The referencing of Giacometti's spatial configurations with their group-like aggregations and Rodin's "Burghers of Calais" and related old works touches a central nerve and is thus not arbitrary. It documents, from a new, but comparable angle, the following matter: Giacometti would have liked (this was one of his preferred topics of discussion) placed his large sculptures on the streets of cities, above all Paris. There, he wanted them to live in most direct proximity with the flow of everyday traffic and passers-by, and to have an impact there. "Qu'on puisse marcher sur la sculpture, s'y asseoir, et s'appuyer," he wrote in the letter to Pierre Matisse in 1947. This wish is nothing other than the extreme version of the intention. He failed, owing to prohibitions by the authorities; but there are some photographs showing works of his in the midst of city streets, placed there temporarily. They affirm the immense and intense impact that the sculptures do not have when displayed in a museum.

People continually rebuke Giacometti for having only used a stereotyped, repetitive representation of the human figure. I d not want to apologize for the fact, but I wish at least in passing to point to a key aspect here: the fundamental, indeed categorical differentiation with which Giacometti distinguishes the female from the male figures. The female figures, without exception, tower upwards, calmly - such that if several are placed in a row, the impression is one of ceremonious silent sovereignty. It is not surprising that Genet felt these sculptures stemmed from the mythical darkness of time, exhibiting the dignity of temple goddesses, of female guardians of magical powers. The animate, striding figures, by contrast, are always male. I do not wish to derive some cheap gender symbolism from this - merely to touch on the fact that Giacometti does not know the reclining human figure. His art, since taking up the human figure, has stubbornly and consistently insisted on the grand phenomenon of the standing and striding human - just as, for example with Henry Moore, we see the grand phenomenon of humans lying heavy on the earth, or, put differently, we encounter a constantly advanced notion of the Magna Mater.

From 1937 to 1946 Giacometti all but ignored painting. As of 1946, however, it had a certain priority over the sculptures. It addressed subject matter that sculpture cannot tackle, for with the exception of painted figures and portraits, still-lifes, interiors, and landscapes play a not unimportant part. The unity of Alberto Giacometti's oeuvre can be sensed above all in the fact that his paintings always revealed a tendency tried and tested in three-dimensional form - namely that of sharply positioning objects and figures in their spatial relationships within a net of a perspectival framework. The creative substratum of this form of painting is, on the one hand, an exceptional use of color, and, on the other, a just as unmistakable form of drawing. As regards the colors, we could talk of these paintings being grisaille, given the ascetically bare (if differentiatedly barren), atmospheric, leisurely swept gray tones that predominate, that only seldom rise to the level of black and white or color. This "monotony" in the choice of colors (the equivalent of the skeleton style of the sculptures) forms the basis for the strangely disconsolate, pale, ashy, burnt-out mood of most of these pictures. The drawing sketches the depiction not with the precise outline of contours that define and shape the body; instead, it manifests itself as a seemingly meaningless, yet incredibly densely contrasting wafer-thin set of scratched marks that is in stark opposition to what is termed "academic" drawing. The layer delimiting the body is full of multivalent openness; it is as if it allowed the "ground" to permeate the human body everywhere, which, often twisted and protracted perspectivally, results from the measured tension between the head that has become remote and the close-up legs or knees or hands. Yet even if transposed into the depths of space, the respective location predominates - at once the interplay of endangered species and heroic self-assertion.

With his drawings, Giacometti has produced works of the highest quality; his drawings are very close to those made by Cézanne, to which they owe much. To this extent, Giacometti's friend Christoph Bernoulli is certainly right when he concedes that he can just about understand that an eye trained in art may not be able to gain much from studying Giacometti's sculptures and paintings. "But I am completely unable to listen to a disparaging judgment on his drawings, as I simply cannot imagine that a homo sapiens with two functioning eyes in his head can actually be blind."

Occasionally in portraits that border on the limits of the physiognomically recognizable and therefore constitute a borderline version of the traditional notion of the portrait, we discern the semi-figure of a human. It is washed over with a dark-gray shadow that falls suddenly and sharply on the picture from outside, almost leading to its extinction, rendering it some shadow-like surface projection, a hieroglyph which, or so Genet claimed, "bears within it the pain of life, and there is no beauty today that does not impressively show the scars of it." In such constellations, Alberto Giacometti's image of the human seems to occupy the most extreme of positions. And Sartre's words apply to it: "Ce personnage peint est hallucinant parce qu'il se présente sous la forme d'une apparition interrogative."

© Neue Zürcher Zeitung



Text source:

b. 1901, Borgonovo, Switzerland; d. 1966, Chur, Switzerland 
Alberto Giacometti was born October 10, 1901, in Borgonovo, Switzerland, and grew up in the nearby town of Stampa. His father, Giovanni, was a Post-Impressionist painter. From 1919 to 1920, he studied painting at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts and sculpture and drawing at the Ecole des Arts et Métiers in Geneva. In 1920, he traveled to Italy, where he was impressed by the works of Alexander Archipenko and Paul Cézanne at the Venice Biennale. He was also deeply affected by African and Egyptian art and by the masterpieces of Giotto and Tintoretto. In 1922, Giacometti settled in Paris, making frequent visits to Stampa, and occasionally attended Antoine Bourdelle’s sculpture classes. 

In 1927, the artist moved into a studio with his brother, Diego, his lifelong companion and assistant, and exhibited his sculpture for the first time at the Salon des Tuileries, Paris. His first show in Switzerland, shared with his father, was held at the Galerie Aktuaryus, Zurich, in 1927. The following year, Giacometti met André Masson, and by 1930 he was a participant in the Surrealist circle until 1934. His first solo show took place in 1932 at the Galerie Pierre Colle, Paris. In 1934, his first American solo exhibition opened at the Julien Levy Gallery, New York. During the early 1940s, he became friends with Simone de Beauvoir, Pablo Picasso, and Jean-Paul Sartre. From 1942, Giacometti lived in Geneva, where he associated with the publisher Albert Skira. 

He returned to Paris in 1946. In 1948, he was given a solo show at the Pierre Matisse Gallery, New York. The artist’s friendship with Samuel Beckett began around 1951. In 1955, he was honored with retrospectives at the Arts Council Gallery, London, and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York. He received the Sculpture Prize at the 1961 Carnegie International in Pittsburgh and the Grand Prize for Sculpture at the 1962 Venice Biennale, where he was given his own exhibition area. In 1965, Giacometti exhibitions were organized by the Tate Gallery, London, the Museum of Modern Art, New York, the Louisiana Museum, Humlebaek, Denmark, and the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam. That same year, he was awarded the Grand Prix National des Arts by the French government. Giacometti died January 11, 1966, in Chur.



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