Main prise, Photo Man Ray

From 21 Nov 2019 To 16 Feb 2020

Giacometti / Sade. Cruel objects of desire

Paris, France
At the Institut Giacometti

In 1933, Alberto Giacometti wrote to André Breton: ‘Read Sade yesterday, I’m very interested in his writings’.In the 1930s, he created objects of a symbolic function with a violent eroticism, similar to that found in D.A.F. de Sade’s writings. The epoch was propitious to the rehabilitation of the divine Marquis, a model of freedom and modernity for artists and writers. The libertine philosopher fascinated Giacometti and his friends, among them Georges Bataille, André Masson, Luis Buñuel, and Salvador Dali. This exhibition shows for the first time the influence of Sade’s writings on his works and his texts. It gathers a large part of the surrealist works that Giacometti made between 1929 and 1934, photographs of some works that have disappeared, and many notebooks of previously unseen drawings.

Curators: Christian Alandete and Serena Bucalo-Mussely

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Model holding the Disagreeable Object, 1931
Photo Man Ray

A long time before discovering Sade, the young Giacometti made copies of religious subjects representing scenes of violence. From 1929, his sculptures and texts came closer to Sade’s universe. Giacometti joined the members of the surrealist circle who contributed to the rediscovery of Sade, first the dissidents gathered around Bataille, then the formal group lead by Breton. Those artists placed imagination, fantasy and dream at the heart of their art practice. The name of Sade appeared several times in his notebooks of the time, in which the artist drew sculptures with strong erotic content, schematizing the sexual organs or representing scenes of voyeurism and prostitution.

The depiction of the sexual relationship appears in countless works between 1929 and 1933. The body is represented in an allusive way, through an organic detail or in a shape both animal and vegetable. The artist represented the tension of a sexuality seen as a struggle between the two sexes. Giacometti abandoned naturalist sculpture for a symbolic representation suggesting penetration, rape and at times murder, the culmination of Sadian pleasure in which sexual impulses are freed so that pleasure and death can coincide.

In 1931, Giacometti gathered under the nameMute and Mobile Objectsa series of equivocal works that are close to the double meaning and black humour images made by the surrealists. With their unstable and threatening character, those works bring out physical and psychological violence. These sculptures take the form of objects on the verge of abstraction, while suggesting a connection to the body. Those objects that can be handled bring to mind instruments of sadistic pleasure, which generate a ‘violent emotion impossible to define, undoubtedly connected to subconscious sexual urges’. (Maurice Nadeau)

These surrealist objects often provoke a feeling of frustration, announcing an imminent danger that in the end won’t materialise, as if to record the gap between fantasy and reality. The metaphor of the eye appears in several of his works, suggesting the possibility of an incision or a penetration. These are close to the erotic and sadistic use of the eye by Buñuel, Dalí and Bataille. Giacometti seems to allude to the scopic drive Freud described as the pleasure to possess the other through the gaze. The artist created a poetic space staging a real theatre of cruelty.


Giacometti / Sade. Cruels objets du désir

Editions Fage, Lyon, Fondation Giacometti, Paris 2019

Language: French/English

160 p.
26 €


Cruels objets du désir : la rencontre entre Sade et Giacometti

Press release

Voir Giacometti et Sade

Artpress, 2020 02 01

Around the exhibition
30 Jan 2020

Sade et la politique, conférence de Stéphanie Genand

Dans le cadre de l'exposition "Giacometti / Sade, Cruels objets du désir", Stéphanie Genand pose la question de la politique dans l'univers sadien lors d'une conférence le 30 janvier 2020 au Giacometti LAB. 


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18 Jan 2020

Anne Kessler reads Sade.

On the occasion of the Reading Night on 18 January 2020 and as part of the exhibition "Giacometti / Sade, Cruels objets du désir", Anne Kessler resumes her interpretation of the writings of the sulphurous Marquis de Sade at the Giacometti Institute

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30 Nov 2019

Performance by François Chaignaud et Cecilia Bengolea

Contemporary dance

Contemporary dance invites itself to the Giacometti Institute with an exceptional performance by François Chaignaud and Cecilia Bengolea on Saturday, November 30 at 6:30 PM and 7:30 PM. 

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29 Nov 2019

Screening of the film Karima

Film Cycle

As part of the exhibition "Giacometti / Sade, Cruel objects of desire", the Giacometti Institute and the Chaplin Denfert art cinema offer a programme of films including Karima - a documentary film by Clarisse Hahn, on Friday 29 November at 8.30 pm. The screening will be followed by a discussion with Clarisse Hahn and Karima, moderated by Christian Alandete.

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03 Nov 2019

Screening of the film O Fantasma

Film cycle

Second film meeting of the Giacometti Institute and the Chaplin Denfert art cinema with the screening of O Fantasma, a film by João Pedro Rodrigues, on Tuesday, December 3 at 8:30 pm. The session will be followed by a discussion with João Pedro Rodrigues and João Rui Guerra da Mata, moderated by Alice Martel.

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To search for a work, consult the Alberto Giacometti Database