Alberto Giacometti and The Guggenheim, As Told Through Sculptures, Paintings and Drawings

June 3, 2018

Modernism is predominantly noted in the history books as a period colored by immense social and political shifts. Despite that, an increasing number of people from various classes started producing art, which started sprawling in more various directions than ever before.

Regardless of the Old masters and the canons of the representation, painting had a leading position as a mediium in the modern art circles. Alongside it, sculpture became equally present, so it is not strange that the first half of the 20th century nurtured several masters and Alberto Giacometti certainly was one of them.

This Swiss-born artist and a lifetime Parisian constructed an impeccable body of work and introduced new methods of molding, plasticity and the shaping of form. Surrealism and Cubism shaped his practice a lot, yet despite his great achievements in the 1920s and the 1930s, this great sculptor is perhaps best known for the series from the fifth decade which were a direct reflection of the horrors of WW II.

The upcoming exhibition at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum attempts to underline once more the domains of the artists' sculptural work. Announced as the first proper retrospective dedicated to the artist in the States in last fifteen years and simply titled Giacometti, it will be installed in the famous rotunda with over 175 sculptures, drawings and paintings, as well as photographs and vernacular objects.

Left Spoon Woman (Femme cuillère), 1926 RightHead of a Woman (Flora Mayo) (Tête de femme [Flora Mayo]), 1926
Left: Alberto Giacometti - Spoon Woman (Femme cuillère), 1926 (cast 1954). Bronze, 143.8 x 51.4 x 21.6 cm. Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York © 2017 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP/FAAG, Paris/ Right: Alberto Giacometti - Head of a Woman (Flora Mayo) (Tête de femme [Flora Mayo]), 1926. Painted plaster, 31.2 × 23.2 × 8.4 cm. Fondation Giacometti, Paris © 2018 Alberto Giacometti Estate/Licensed by VAGA and ARS, New York

Giacometti and The Guggenheim

Besides the revaluation of Alberto Giacometti’s several decades-long practices, the concept behind the exhibition tends to shed a new light on the historical relationship between the Guggenheim Museum and the artist.

Initially, it was Peggy Guggenheim who discovered the amazing sculptor, probably during her stay in Paris while mingling through the Parisian cultural scene; she was amazed by his works and decided to display them along with the likes of Surrealist and Abstractionists within the traveling exhibition and the collection.

Later on, the museum organized the first exhibition of the sculptor's works suited for the museum context in 1955. During that period, the key Giacometti sculptures were included in the Guggenheim collection thanks to then-director James Johnson Sweeney. The idea was to integrate this particular medium as well, so the collection would fully represent the then-contemporary spirit.

Almost ten years later the great sculptor passed away, the posthumous retrospective was held in the iconic Frank Lloyd Wright-designed building in 1974.

Left Nose (Le nez), 1947 Right Three Men Walk
Left: Alberto Giacometti - Nose (Le nez), 1947 (cast 1949). Bronze, wire, rope, and steel, 81 x 71.4 x 39.4 cm. Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York © 2017 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP/FAAG, Paris / Right: Alberto Giacometti - Three Men Walking (Large Square), Trois hommes qui marchent [petit plateau], 1948. Bronze, 72 x 32.7 x 34.1 cm. Fondation Giacometti, Paris © 2018 Alberto Giacometti Estate/Licensed by VAGA and ARS, New York

About The Installment

Since it is a retrospective, the Guggenheim selection will cover Giacometti's artworks, sculptures, paintings and drawings, in a chronological order. The early period in France is marked by his fascination and, as it was mentioned, overlap with the sprawling Cubism and Surrealism, as well as with various ancient artistic traditions, like African, Cycladic and Oceanic. The artist was a friend of the great intellectuals of the times such as Samuel Beckett and Jean-Paul Sartre, whose ideas seem to be prevailing through his works.

All the artifacts at the exhibition faithfully represent the sculptor's attention to the matters of human nature and corporeality. The meticulous craftsmanship is apparent mostly in the sculptures only several centimeters high, which are attached to the pedestals or set back against the museum's walls. On the other hand, the interest in spatiality and perspective is most apparent on the figures and heads produced just after the WW II.

The audience will be able to see rarely shown plaster sculptures, which precede his later work. Alberto Giacometti painted some of them or cast them later in bronze. An additional layer of the showcase are the photographs of the artist, as well as his journals and sketchbooks with drawings which tell much about his methodology and the creation process.

In the late 1950s, the artist produced a group of three sculptures for Chase Manhattan Bank Plaza in New York, a major monument designed for an urban public space, a project which remained unreleased. These pieces perhaps embody the dominant motifs present in his work in the last 20 years in the best possible manner, and those are bust-length portraits of family and friends, standing female nudes, and walking male figures.

The last segment of the exhibition will be a film shot by Ernst Scheidegger, which is a footage of the sculptor working in his studio.

Left Caroline in a Red Dress, 1964–65 Right Walking Man
Left: Alberto Giacometti - Caroline in a Red Dress (Caroline avec une robe rouge), ca. 1964–65. Oil on canvas, 92.3 x 65.4 cm. Fondation Giacometti, Paris © 2018 Alberto Giacometti Estate/Licensed by VAGA and ARS, New York / Right: Alberto Giacometti - Walking Man I (Homme qui marche I), 1960. Bronze, 180.5 x 27 x 97 cm. Fondation Giacometti, Paris © 2018 Alberto Giacometti Estate/Licensed by VAGA and ARS, New York

Giacometti at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum

This extraordinary exhibition will definitely underline Giacometti's immense contribution to arts and unravel certain aspects of his method in order to bring closer the domains of  the great sculptor’s work to the wider audience. By joining forces with the Foundation Giacometti, Guggenheim has gathered the works from other collections and has prepared an accompanying catalog edited by Megan Fontanella and Karole P. B. Vail, Director, Peggy Guggenheim Collection, as well as the following programs which will be announced at the museum’s web page.

Giacometti will be on display at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York from 8 June until 12 September 2018.

Editors’ Tip: Giacometti

This comprehensive survey of the work of the Swiss-born modern master offers a fresh and incisive account of his creative output. Published on the occasion of Giacometti’s first major museum presentation in the US in over a decade, the volume brings together nearly 200 sculptures, paintings and drawings to trace the artist’s wide-ranging and hugely innovative engagement with the human form across various mediums.

Live from the Guggenheim Museum - The making of the Giacometti exhibition

Featured image: Alberto Giacometti - Dog (Le Chien), 1951. Bronze, 44.2 x 96.8 x 15.7 cm. Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC, Gift of Joseph H. Hirshhorn, 1966 © 2018 Alberto Giacometti Estate/Licensed by VAGA and ARS, New York. All images courtesy the Guggenheim.

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