Fondation Giacometti -  Cubism

Sabine Weiss, Vue de l'exposition Alberto Giacometti à l'Orangerie des Tuileries, salle 7, 1er étage, 18 novembre 1969, coll.Fondation Giacometti, Paris.
© Succession Giacometti (Fondation Giacometti, Paris et ADAGP, Paris)
© Sabine Weiss

Although he enrolled in sculptor Antoine Bourdelle’s studio as soon as he arrived in Paris, Giacometti was soon taking an interest in the avant-garde movements developing elsewhere. One of the dominant trends was post-cubism. Knowing little about this creative world, Giacometti had to learn in the field. From visiting salons and meeting artists he assimilated cubist methods and began making his first personal sculptures. His notebooks from the time reveal his interest in the language of modernism and his desire to get away from traditional artistic forms. His representation of the body, with the volume initially constructed by a network of lines and facets, became more organised as it evolved towards more abstract forms.

In 1925 he was invited to exhibit at the Salon des Tuileries. He showed his first ‘non-figurative’ composition, Torso (Torse) 1925 (p.136). On this female torso the artist reduces the outline to angular blocks, simple forms, as Constantin Brancusi had done in his 1923 Torso. Giacometti later recalled that when Bourdelle saw the sculpture he said: ‘You can do that kind of thing in the studio, but you don’t show it.’

His early acquaintances included artists Ossip Zadkine and Jacques Lipchitz, who invited him to their studios and gave him encouragement. The so-called ‘cubist’ Compositions made in around 1927 reflect this new connection; the motifs are similar to those of Zadkine’s Accordion Player 1922–6 and Lipchitz’s Bather 1917–18 and Guitar Player c.1918.

Giacometti’s sculptures became increasingly abstract, while seeking to maintain the reference to the human figure, showing similarities to the figures of Fernand Léger and the sculptures of Joseph Csaky. The representational elements here are dispersed among cylinders, cones and half-spheres assembled into columns. In Figure (known as Cubist I) from 1926 (p.138) the essential geometrical forms are combined and transposed so as to form a figure that is very close to Harlequin 1917 by Juan Gris.

From the avant-garde Giacometti also learned about what were then called ‘primitive’ objects. As of 1926, his work started to combine neo-cubist compositions with motifs taken from non-Western art seen at the Musée du Trocadéro, in reviews or at the homes of his collector friends. As Pablo Picasso had done before him, the young sculptor used the elementary forms of the totem and stele to represent, respectively, The Couple (Le Couple) 1927 (p.139) and Crouching Figure (Personnage accroupi) c.1926 (p.135). Also from Picasso (Figure 1908) and from sculptor Henri Laurens (Bottle and Glass 1919) he took the practice of highlighting the details of his sculptures by painting them. The key work from this period is Spoon Woman (Femme cuillière) 1927 (p.140–1), which shows the influence of both primitive arts andthe lessons of cubism. This sculpture takes its purity and geometricised elementary forms from Brancusi while the superposition of the three modules constituting the torso, the belly and base and the combination of frontal and side views recalls the totemic sculptures of Jacob Epstein (Venus 1917).

Serena Bucalo-Mussely

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