alberto giacometti sculptures
Artworks by Giacometti at the 31° Venice Biennale in 1962, photographed by Paolo Monti
In a letter to Pierre Matisse, Giacometti wrote: “Figures were never a compact mass but like a transparent construction”.  In the letter, Giacometti writes about how he looked back at the realist, classical busts of his youth with nostalgia, and tells the story of the existential crisis which precipitated the style he became known for.
Giacometti had been immersed in the surrealist world for two years, and he had been creating, in his words, ‘sculptures that presented themselves to my mind entirely accomplished. I limited myself to reproducing them . . . without asking myself what they could mean.’ With this piece, Giacometti is giving his formal language, the possibility of materials, a protagonism of their own. Giacometti saw a ‘sharpness’ in reality, bodies ‘were never for me a compact mass but like a transparent construction.’ It is the product of Giacometti’s affair with a woman named Denise, with whom he built a ‘fantastic palace at night” – the imaginary world of their enigmatic relationship, being given shape as an architectural skeleton.
Giacometti arrived in Paris at the age of 20, and was quick to absorb all the rich influences that the capital offered at the time. Although he was trained by Bourdelle in classical sculpture, the works of the Cubists and Brancusi interested him as well. It was through the discovery of African art, which was being regularly exhibited in Paris then, however, that he finally broke away from Western influences and appropriated the frontality, symbols, and metaphors of this type of art. In Spoon Woman, one of the most famous of his early sculptures, woman stands as a symbol of fertility, as seen by the Dan people of West Africa. In it we can see too influences of cubist shapes, and the beginning of an ever-lasting interest in the female and male types.
Giacometti is on at Tate Modern 10 May – 10 September 2017.
Giovanni shared his passion for art and wood etchings with his son. Throughout his artistic career, Alberto experimented with a variety of printing techniques, including etching, engraving, aquatint and lithography.
In 1922 Giacometti moved to Paris to study with sculptor Antoine Bourdelle at the Académie de la Grande Chaumière. He soon discovered the Post-Cubist works of Jacques Lipchitz, Henri Laurens, Constantin Brancusi, and Pablo Picasso, and this prompted him to abandon his classical training and adopt the formal vocabulary of Neo-Cubism with a very personal style centered on the human figure.
On view in this gallery is a set of works that summarize the different scales in which Alberto Giacometti worked from 1938 onwards. Before his Surrealist period, he had explored numerous variations in the form and dimensions of the bases of his sculptures, which are integral to the work itself. In 1957, he further pursued his investigation of scale and the human figure with The Leg (1958), a monumental piece perched on an enormously high pedestal. Its size and its fragmented state recall ancient sculpture, and this influence recurs in his series of steles with high, column-like bases crowned by male busts, as in Large Head (1960).
The medium was long considered “lesser,” points out David Norman, a private dealer and former longtime co-head of Sotheby’s Impressionist and Modern department. Norman says that a version of Chariot, a Giacometti sculpture that sold for $101 million in 2014, was sold at Sotheby’s in the early 1980s for roughly $1.4 million, one of the highest prices for sculpture at the time. Meanwhile, Impressionist paintings were already regularly fetching prices in the tens of millions by 1990.
Collectors no longer discriminate against sculpture because it is essentially a “multiple” and not unique, Norman says. He attributes this in part to “an influx of hyper-wealthy bidders versus years past,” for whom uniqueness is perhaps less important than name recognition.