12 Oct 2009, Posted by Eric Karstens in Off topic: Art, etc., 0 Comments

Fondation Beyeler takes a closer look at Alberto Giacometti

Alberto Giacometti is one of the most prominent Swiss artists and gained worldwide reputation particularly through his needle-like sculptures of human figures and haunting portrait paintings. However, from casual observation in the many collections which have Giacometti’s works, one might think that he is limited in his expressions and choice of subjects, that his static stick figures actually represent the essence of his oeuvre.

But that would not do him justice at all. To the contrary, an exhibition at Fondation Beyeler in the pastoral Basel, Switzerland, suburb of Riehen, showed the whole range and the development of Giacometti’s art. Born into a family of artists, he was influenced by and co-operated with several relatives, among them his father Giovanni, a celebrated impressionistic painter himself. Alberto’s early works are shown in this context, and it becomes immediately apparent where he drew his original inspirations from. His parents and his parental home in a remote village in the Swiss canton of Graubünden became his first motives.

One really fascinating quality of this exhibition was that it not only showed Alberto Giacometti’s roots, but also his intense life-long search process for the ultimate form. This is reflected in two main aspects. On the one hand, Giacometti’s drawings as well as his paintings all show him zeroing in on his subjects in an additive fashion: He just keeps adding swooping, energetic brush or pencil strokes to each other, coming ever closer to the result he desires. He is not an artist to sketch anything with just a few well-planned lines; rather he is approximating the end result. From looking at the paintings, this seems to have been a torturous process, producing often scary grimaces. But it could also simply be his work style without any intended sinister connotations.

On the other hand, there are his sculptures. The most well-known static figures actually turn out to be only a mere part of Giacometti’s work. Probably, the process of modelling them was similar to his painting technique, but, of course, you cannot see this in the finished piece. Yet the finished sculptures show his searching in a different way: The artist systematically explores how far he can go and what he can express with the three-dimensional works – or not.

Although for him it was most probably a pretty scary process, it seems almost funny that at a point in his career, Giacometti himself observed that his sculptures became ever smaller and he could not do anything about it. The exhibition has one striking example, an approximately 5 cm tall statute displayed in a room of its own.

But in hindsight, this turned out to be only one road he travelled during his development as a sculptor. The exhibition also shows many instances where he explored motion and movement, or where he left the notion of a solitary sculpture behind in favour of a group of statues structuring an entire square or room. Sometimes, he takes movement so literally that he actually experiments with wheels, some of them functional, others rather symbolic. In other times, he sculpts the movement right into the statue, creating a powerful impression of dynamic. Thus he achieves a great creative consistency, with apparently not many roads of his personal universe left untravelled.

Please see a related post at Les mauvaises fréquentations (in French).