Fifty years since we first showed London his work, Giacometti returns to our galleries
One of the few artists of the last century whose work is often more recognisable than his name, his distinctive elongated figures are inescapably linked to the post-War climate of existential despair.
This exhibition will focus on the influences that shaped Giacometti and the experimental way in which he developed his practice. The exhibition includes some never before seen plasters and drawings alongside more familiar bronze sculptures and oil paintings.
Tate has been given unparalleled access to the Fondation Alberto et Annette Giacometti’s extraordinary collection and archive. From his first works of art through his Surrealist compositions, to the emergence of his mature style, Giacometti has rarely been explored this fully.
The exhibition is organised by Tate Modern and Fondation Alberto et Annette Giacometti, Paris
David Austen on
Alberto Giacometti’s Hour of the Traces 1930
In 1933 Giacometti said that when making his sculptures he reproduced images that were ‘complete in my mind’s eye… without stopping to ask myself what they might mean’. This fragile construction suggests the mysteries of the unconscious, combining space and time, eroticism and death. The cage-like structure supports delicate organic forms. The upper shapes have been seen as skeletal or phallic, while the lower suspended form has been interpreted as a beating heart or a clock’s pendulum.
Gallery label, October 2016
It is always smaller and more fragile than I remember. Its title is redolent of deep night, stained sheets and dragged bodies, while the cage-like structure is reminiscent of the scaffold and the guillotine, or a charred building. Above, attached by twisted bent wire to the roof beams like an early television aerial, are three white shapes: an upside down “L” or blind man’s cane, a crescent or shooting comet and a broken moon. These shapes could just as well be impaled body parts: a gaping head and a long skinny penis or tongue. This is a place of medieval torture or an ancient object from an Egyptian tomb. It is a grisly, cruel scene – none of the gaiety, humour and bird-like sounds that emanate from a Klee or Miró. “I work to please the dead” Giacometti said.
Dropped down into the body of the cage and held by a trembling wire is a small plaster heart. It is a pendulum in a Swiss clock, a beating heart from a Poe story, or a heart for a tin man. It makes me think of weight and gravity, the terrible lonely ache of love, passing moments and the “unbearable lightness of being”. I have a photograph I must have taken a very long time ago in Tate of the little plaster heart hanging by its wire. Now and then it surfaces to the top of a big pile of images I have in my studio. I always stop and look and think how something so simple can work so well, and it’s always going to be there.
Hour of the Traces was purchased with assistance from the Friends of the Tate Gallery in 1975, and is on view at Tate Modern until July 2005
TATE MODERN REUNITES RARELY SEEN PLASTER SCULPTURES BY GIACOMETTI
A celebrated group of plaster sculptures will be brought together for the first time since they were made in 1956 for Tate Modern’s major Giacometti retrospective. All six Women of Venice plaster works created for the 1956 Venice Biennale will be reunited for the first time in 60 years. They will be shown alongside two further plaster sculptures from this series, which Giacometti unveiled at the Kunsthalle Berne that same year. The works have been specially restored and reassembled for Tate Modern’s exhibition by the Fondation Alberto et Annette Giacometti, Paris. It will offer a once in the lifetime opportunity to see this important group of fragile works as the artist originally intended.
Giacometti was chosen to represent France at the 1956 Venice Biennale. He showed a group of newly made plaster sculptures for the exhibition, all of which depict an elongated standing female nude. These works represent a crucial stage in Giacometti’s artistic development and were the result of the study of his wife Annette, one of his most important models. The sculptures can be seen as a culmination of the artist’s lifelong experimentations to depict the reality of the human form.
While Giacometti is best known for his bronze figures, Tate Modern will reposition him as an artist with a far wider interest in materials and textures, especially plaster, clay and paint. Over the course of about three weeks, Giacometti moulded each of the Women of Venice in clay before casting them in plaster and reworking them with a knife to further accentuate their surface. The elasticity and malleability of these materials allowed him to work in an inventive way. Giacometti also embellished the surface of several works in the series with red and black paint, an important element of his practice that can only be experienced by seeing the original plaster sculptures.
Thanks to unparalleled access to the Fondation Alberto et Annette Giacometti’s extraordinary collection and archive, Tate Modern has been able to bring together these rarely seen works. The extensive restoration project carried out by the Fondation will offer visitors a new perspective on Giacometti’s working methods. The works have been returned to their original state showing the paintwork and penknife marks not visible on the later bronze casts. The exhibition will also include other important plaster sculptures, drawings and sketch books that have never been shown before, including The Nose c.1947-9, Medium Figure III 1948-9 and Woman Leoni 1947-58.
Alberto Giacometti is presented in The Eyal Ofer Galleries , supported by Maryam and Edward Eisler, with additional support from the Giacometti Exhibition Supporters Circle, Tate Patrons, Tate Americas Foundation and Tate Members.
open from 10 May to 10 October 2017