Giacometti – Tate Modern

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The Venice Women by Alberto Giacometti (1901-1966), first shown in the Venice pavilion in 1957, is now on display in Giacometti, the exhibition of the artist’s works current at Tate Modern. These statues of various female anatomies reflect the influence of Egyptian art that began when the artist arrived in Paris. In 1922, King Tutankhamun’s tomb and its treasures had just been discovered and Egyptian influence infiltrated fashion and popular design. Giacometti, who had already studied painting and sculpture in Geneva, became obsessed with the upright figure. Without regard for established orthodoxies in art and with much influence from cubism and surrealism, he began making drawings and sculptures that expressed his vision of the human body. The familiar Giacometti trope emerged, the elongated, upright anatomy with the addition of subtle details, denoting gender and making the body individual.

In Room 1, we see a collection of heads, spanning from C. 1917-1918 to 1965, Giacometti’s entire working life in fact, demonstrating his fascination with the human head and his ability to create individuality with detail. He experimented with media; in Room 2 is Cage (1930-31), a box filled with miscellaneous wooden items. In Room 3 is the bronze wall relief Untitled (Landscape with Nude Woman and Rider) c. 1931-1932, a delicate and poetic evocation of a rider on a horse alongside a river, with a nude woman looking at him and cloud formation overhead. The wall relief is both simple in composition and complex with the variety of textures the artist has created to suggest the soft flesh of the woman, the ripples of the river surface and the gentle clouds over the hills in the background.

Alberto Giacometti Woman with her Throat Cut 1932 Bronze (cast 1949) 22 x 75 x 58 cm National Galleries of Scotland © Alberto Giacometti Estate, ACS/DACS, 2017

Alberto Giacometti
Woman with her Throat Cut
Bronze (cast 1949)
22 x 75 x 58 cm
National Galleries of Scotland
© Alberto Giacometti Estate, ACS/DACS, 2017

In the same room is a cabinet filled with drawings and small bronze items by Salvador Dali and Man Ray, and do watch out for Giacometti’s Ear (1933) by Meret Oppenheim, a delightful rendition of said bodily part in bronze. The theme of the tortured woman runs through much of Giacometti’s work, evident in the plaster tangle, albeit harmonious, of Spoon Woman (1927), in Room 4. Figurine Between Two Houses (1950) is a witty comment on contemporary life. This “painted bronze” item resembles a radiogram – fashionable in the 1950’s – with a miniature figure trapped in the area where the electric workings should be. Indeed, it rather puts me in mind of Richard Hamilton’s Just what is it that makes today’s homes so different, so appealing? – and other domestic tableaux where men and women are juxtaposed with and overwhelmed by everyday, consumer durables.

As the decades wore on, Giacometti began to use surrealism much more in his work, for example, creating sculptures of bodily parts. The Hand (1947) is a long, slender bronze hand and arm, reminiscent of those spooky anatomic parts that arise and cause plot havoc in animated movies. It is in Room 8, alongside other anatomic sculptures, Large Head (1958), The Nose (c. 1947-1949) and The Leg (1958). Included in the exhibition is a 16-minute film, made by Giacometti in 1966, of sculptors Ernst Scheidegger and Peter Munger, at work. Giacometti died the same year.

Over two hundred works feature in Giacometti, which closes on September 10, 2017.

Mary Phelan (2017)


About Mary Phelan

I am an art historian, magazine editor and design philosopher. In addition to editing Artyonline, I have my own website, and write a blog, Design Victim, on the pain and pleasure of encountering designed objects in modern life. Readers can also follow my latest Hub Pages article that provides directions on how to create Ray Lichtenstein-type images using computer drawing software.