Alberto Giacometti

Alberto Giacometti is born in Borgonovo, Switzerland, in 1901. In 1919 he begins his studies at the École des Beaux-Arts in Geneva. After moving to Paris, he enrols at the Académie de la Grande Chaumière to study with Èmile-Antoine Bourdelle, along with his friend, the sculptor Germaine Richier. His academic training influences his interests in the fashioning of figural appearance and corporeal resemblance early on.

Giacometti’s engagement with Cubism and non-European works of art (Femme-cuillère, 1926/27) is followed by an increasing closeness to surrealist concepts of body and gender, concepts he eventually adopts, inspired through his contacts with Andrè Breton, André Masson, and Georges Batailles. He fashions body-like objects whose kinetic potential becomes the expression of aggressive sexual fantasies (Homme et femme, 1928/29, Boule suspendue, 1930). Yet he soon turns towards figural models again, and especially his brother Diego becomes his sitter. The question of measurements of the human figure is of particular interest to him. He reaches unconventional solutions, at first in small format (Petit buste sur double socle, 1940/41), that capture his desire to reduce body representations to the point of essential states of being. The artist lives in Geneva from 1942 to 1945 and then returns to Paris.

Giacometti’s involvement with drawing and painting leads to his characteristic figural concept of elongated proportions, which he considers to come closest to his view of the human figure. Spatial distancing and the character of a silhouette distinguish the figures he creates from now on, figures that always act within the field of forces of a constructed (interior) space (Femme debout, 1948; Trois hommes qui marchent, 1948). Gazes, bearing, movements become reduced yet intense forms of transitory corporeal expressions. Even the concreteness of body contours is altered into a spatial reference through the surface of his bronze sculptures, a surface that is jagged and rough.

Giacometti derives a broad spectrum of existential expression from delimiting his work to relatively few themes of the figural sculpture. He creates mostly busts, male figures stepping forward and female figures in a frontal upright position – all spatially arranged in groups or enclosures. He thus succeeds in rendering discernible the physical presence of social interaction, psychic isolation and dreamlike/phantasmagoric absence. To achieve this Giacometti works with the most subtle means and develops his own repertoire of signs. During this time he also gets to know Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir.

From the 1950s on, Giacometti starts to paint some of his bronze figures and generally turns towards painting again. He keeps probing new approaches to the fashioning of portraits and busts whose spatial system of reference is similar to that of his sculptural works (Grand Tête noir, 1961; Portrait d’Annette à la blouse jaune, 1964). Since 1955 his work has been shown in numerous solo and group exhibitions in New York, Bern, Paris, Zurich and other locations. In 1965 the Giacometti-Stiftung is founded in the Kunsthaus in Zurich.

Alberto Giacometti dies in 1966 in Chur, Switzerland.

Selected Literature

Wilson, Laurie: Alberto Giacometti, Myth, Magic and the Man, New Haven u.a. 2003

Die neuen Räume. Alberto Giacometti im Kunsthaus Zürich: Ausst.-Kat. hg. von der Zürcher Kunstgesellschaft, Zürich 2002

Alberto Giacometti. Porträts: Ausst.-Kat. Museum Kurhaus Kleve, hg. v. Martin Faass und Frauke Mankartz, Kleve 2001

Alberto Giacometti. Werke und Schriften: Ausst.-Kat. Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt, hg. v. Christoph Vitali, Zürich 1998

Alberto Giacometti: Ausst.-Kat. Kunsthalle der Hypo-Kulturstiftung, mit Beiträgen von R. Koella, W. Schmied und J.-L. Prat, München 1997

Bildrechte: gemeinfrei, Foto: Peter Hinschläger Bildrechte: VG Bild Kunst, Bonn 2014 Bildrechte: Calder Foundation New York / Foto Stiftung Lehmbruck Museum Foto: Tobias Roch, Hagen

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