Alberto Giacometti (1901-1966), a major 20th-century artist, produced an extensive body of work in the legendary space of his studio in Montparnasse, Paris.
This unprecedented exhibition, the result of research into the collections and archives of the Fondation Giacometti and a new restoration campaign, was developed specifically for the exhibition space at the Fonds Hélène&Édouard Leclerc.
From his pre-surrealist and surrealist works to his mature period that focuses on figures, the exhibition offers an original reinterpretation of an unparalleled artistic career. Organised both chronologically
and thematically, the major themes of Giacometti’s artwork are presented through iconic pieces from each period, as well as previously unseen or rarely exhibited works. A representation of his studio is on display at the centre of the exhibition.
– From cubism to surrealism
In 1922, Giacometti moved to Paris to attend sculptor Antoine Bourdelle at the Académie de la Grande Chaumière, where students from all around the world come to be trained working with models. Duringhis first years in Paris, he successively discovered “primitive” art, neo-cubism and, most significantly,surrealism. Giacometti very quickly carved his own personal path that attracted the attention of theinfluential artists and intellectuals of the time, ensuringthat the young artist soon made a name for himself. Dalí saw the prototype of surrealist “symbolically functioning objects” in Boule suspendue and Breton invited him to join their movement.
– To the point of disppearing
With Paris under German occupation, Giacometti leftFrance in 1940 to find refuge in Geneva Switzerland,where, in a hotel room transformed into a studio, he created miniature sculptures. Reducing the scale in this way reproduced the real-life experience of seeingsomeone standing at a distance. “I reduced the size of the sculpture to reflect the real distance from which I observed the figure. This young girl 15 metres awayfrom me did not measure 80 centimetres, but around10. Furthermore, in order to apprehend the figure asa whole, to not drown myself in the detail, I needed to be even further away. But the details still bothered me ... So I drew back, further and further until it disappeared.”
– « All the living were dead... »
In 1921, Giacometti was brought face to face with the traumatic experience of death, when he witnessed Pieter van Meurs sudden death during a trip in Italy. From then on, death would remain ever-present in his work, more or less explicitly, whether in the hollowing out of facial features to the point of revealing bone, or in the drawing of his friend Michel Leiris, bedridden following a suicide attempt, like a recumbent statue, alive yet almost dead. In 1946, Giacometti published an key text, “Le Rêve, le Sphinx et la mort de T.”, in which, by means of a dream that had presumablyrecurred since the 1921 tragedy, he finally managedto describe this feeling of perceiving death through the living.
– Variations on the base
Giacometti, like Brancusi, with whom he shared one of his early exhibitions at the Salon des Tuileries in Paris, considered the base to be an integral part of his work. Following the Surrealist period during which he asserted the autonomy of the sculptural object, he increasingly varied the shape and proportionsbetween the base and the figure. As a sculptor, he“wanted to do away with the base” and subsequentlytreated it in the same way as his figures, with anirregular surface bearing the trace of the hand that made it. The base thus took on a similar importanceto that of the figure, with which it sometimes merged.
– Giacometti’s studio
From December 1926, Giacometti settled up in a studio that was barely 23 m2, on 46 rue Hippolyte-Maindron in the artistic district of Montparnasse, Paris. It wasin this space, which was basic and modest in size,that Giacometti produced the majority of his artwork. The studio quickly became the legendary space of the artist at work. When no one was modelling for him, Giacometti happily opened his doors to the greatest photographers of the time, who, between the 1930sand 1960s, bore witness to the space that reflectedthe artist’s work: simultaneously timeless and in perpetual motion.
– Creating a head
In 1935, Giacometti distanced himself from the Surrealist movement and returned to working withmodels. Rita Gueyfier, a professional model, and the artist’s brother, Diego, modelled every day. What was supposed to last a few days became a life- long obsession. For Giacometti, the goal was not to “represent people as you know them, but as you see them,” resemblance being less in the realistic representation of facial features and more in the depiction of visual perception. His family and friends spent long hours posing in the cold studio, while Giacometti tirelessly painted or sculpted, with the feeling of never managing to reproduce what he saw.
– Illustrating Bataille/ Thinking of ÉluardGiacometti attracted the attention of the Saint- Germain intellectuals as soon as he appeared on the Parisian art scene: Cocteau, Prévert, Leiris, Breton, Aragon, Éluard, Sartre, Beauvoir and Genet wereamong his first admirers.
In 1929, he met Georges Bataille, who had just founded the journal Documents with Leiris, whichfeatured one of the first enthusiastic reviews of hiswork. After the war, Bataille entrusted him with illustrating Histoire de rats : Journal de Dianus, which was published in 1947.
Giacometti drew the character Madame B. as Diane, who was shortly to become Bataille’s wife. Although he distanced himself from surrealism from 1935 onwards, he remained close to many of the artists from the movement. In 1952, he drew an intimate series of portraits and bouquets En pensant à Éluard, whose funeral had just taken place.
– Black paintings
Between the 1950s and 1960s, Giacometti painted a series of “black paintings” reducing his chromatic range to black and grey tones, underneath which traces of colour can sometimes be glimpsed. Figures and ghostly presences emerge from the general monochromy. The radicality of these paintings has made them some of the most enigmatic and originalexamples of post-war figurative painting.
– A woman lik a tree, A head like a stone
At the beginning of the 1950s, Giacometti created compositions that, although far axay from the Surrealist period, still captured the same spirit. These worksstaged the unlikely enounter of a head and a figurine ina cage or gathered serveral sculptures together on the same tray creating a landscape. These pieces, inspired from memories of a clearing or a square, suggest an animated landscape where trees are represented by women’s silhouettes and rocks by heads.
– Walking humanity
Homme qui marche is undeniably Giacometti’s most iconic piece and the most famous sculpture of the 20th century. From the 1930s onwards and with Femme qui marche, whose movement, inspired by Egyptian depictions, is barely expressed, Giacometti stroveto represent figures in motion. Immediately after the war, he created different, modestly-sized variations of men in motion until this definitive full-scale size figure, created as part of commission for the Chase Manhattan Plaza in New York that was never finalized.
Curated Catherine Grenier
Associate curator Christian Alandete