Alberto Giacometti – UK’s first major retrospective at Tate Modern until 10 September 2017

Alberto Giacometti with his plaster sculptures at the Venice Biennale, 1956. Photograph: Alinari/Roger-Viollet

Early life

Alberto Giacometti was born in the Swiss Alps in 1901, eldest son of a well-known Impressionist painter.  He is famous for his tall, thin, bleak figures – humans honed almost to knife sharpness.

He began his artistic career as a Surrealist but a combination of being expelled from the group (his work was too realistic) and the horrors of the Second World War engendering the realisation that people were all that mattered brought about a complete change in his art, and he began creating his hallmark elongated impossibly thin sculptures of people – people who have lost everything but still stand tall and proud.  The elongation is his emotional response to what he sees, and represents the increasing meaninglessness of modern life.  He was no longer sculpting the human body, but its shadow.

What is here to show your children?

The first highlight is in the first room – rows and rows of sculpted heads, made between 1917 and 1960 showing the breadth and diversity of his art.

Another unmissable exhibit is his Women of Venice (photograph above) – 6 plaster sculptures exhibited at the Venice biennale in 1956, which will never leave Paris again, all based on his wife Anette and which represent the culmination of his lifelong efforts to show the reality of the human form.  Bronze editions of the Women are in museums around the world, but Giacometti loved the plaster forms best.

Alberto Giacometti “L’homme au doigt” (Man Pointing), 1947 Tate © Alberto Giacometti estate / ACS+DACS in the UK, 2017

Finally his trademark bronzes of which there are many  – “L’homme au doigt” was created in 1947 – frail yet upright, we have no idea who or what he is pointing at – existentialist philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre said Giacometti’s sculpture was “always halfway between nothingness and being”  and yet the statues dominate their space in a way which is uplifting and magnetic.

L’homme was created in just one night, between midnight and nine the next morning.  Thought to be originally intended to form part of a larger composition, with his left arm positioned to hook around a second figure, it was made for his first exhibition in 1947.   It set a new world record for the most valuable sculpture sold at auction for just over $141 million in May 2015.

Tate Modern’s powerful exhibition has over 250 works, including paintings, sculptures, and decorative objects.

Link to the Exhibition here

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