Giacometti: Intimate Immensity

By Peggy Roalf   Thursday November 15, 2018

Anxiety and alienation were the existential problem of early 20th-century Europe, informing the shift from realism to Surrealism, and from representation to abstraction. The sculptor Alberto Giacometti saw himself somewhat apart from current trends: a realist attempting the “impossible task” [his words] of representing the appearance of things as he saw them. Impossible, as for him the foundational quest was to capture the ungraspable essence of the human condition. 

The Swiss-born artist (1901-1966), who had studied for a year at Geneva’s École des Beaux-Arts, afterwords spending a year in Italy, moved to Paris in 1922 to continue his studies. Giacometti joined André Breton’s Surrealist movement in 1931; in no time he stood out as one of its few sculptors. Despite his being expelled in February 1935 due to his interest in figurative work, surrealist procedures such as  dreamlike visions, montage and assemblage, objects with metaphorical functions, and magical treatment of the figure continued to play an important part in his creative work. By 1936, he was an established artist, his work having entered major collections in Europe and in the Museum of Modern Art, New York.

As war engulfed Europe, with Paris being subsumed into the Nazi Occupation, Giacometti returned to Switzerland, dividing his time between Geneva and his family home. He continued to explore the human figure in sculptural form through a process in which he gradually reduced the size of his sculptures. Frustrated by his inability to find the correct sculptural expression for his thoughts, impressions, and feelings, the artist wrote in 1948 to Pierre Matisse, his art dealer in New York, that "wanting to create from memory what I had seen myself, the sculptures gradually became smaller and smaller, bearing resemblance only when they were small... Often they became so very small that with one touch from my knife they vanished into dust.” 

A selection of these sculptures, rarely seen before, is now on view at Luxembourg and Dayan, in Alberto Giacometti: Intimate Immensity Sculptures, 1935– 1945, an installation designed by contemporary Swiss artist, Urs Fischer. From the catalogue: Evolving against a backdrop of unprecedented socio-political upheaval, this unique body of work represents a profoundly transformative phase of Giacometti’s career: no more than three inches tall, as thin as nails, these works reveal the path that led the artist to the elongated figures for which he became famous in the final two decades of his life. 

In spite of their size, or perhaps precisely because of it, the figures in Intimate Immensity are monumental in their presence, expressing Giacometti’s desire to withdraw from what he called “natural size” in order to best represent his own perception of scale and experience. In addition to his sculptures, the exhibition includes a never before exhibited matchbook that Giacometti used to transport one of the figures back to Paris, in his pocket (photo at top). 

Intimate Immensity is accompanied by a new publication featuring an extended essay by Casimiro Di Crescenzo, analyzing this period in Giacometti’s career; a translation of a rare interview with Alberto Giacometti on the subject of scale, conducted by Pierre Dumayet in 1963; and excerpts from Gaston Bachelard’s seminal work, The Poetics of Space.

Alberto Giacometti: Intimate Immensity Sculptures, 1935– 1945 continues at Luxembourg and Dayan through December 15th. 64 East 77th Street, NY, NY Info Photos © Peggy Roalf

By Peggy Roalf   Wednesday November 14, 2018

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By Peggy Roalf   Monday November 12, 2018

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