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Alberto Giacometti Photo

Alberto Giacometti

Swiss Sculptor and Painter

Movements and Styles: Surrealism, Existentialism in Modern Art

Born: October 10, 1901 - Stampa, Graubunden, Switzerland

Died: January 11, 1966 - Chur, Graubunden, Switzerland

Alberto Giacometti Timeline

Important Art by Alberto Giacometti

The below artworks are the most important by Alberto Giacometti - that both overview the major creative periods, and highlight the greatest achievements by the artist.

Gazing Head (1928)
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Gazing Head (1928)

Artwork description & Analysis: In his early years, Giacometti often experienced difficulty in sculpting from life. In this despair, he began to work from memory. The early plaster bust Gazing Head, arguably the artist's first truly original work, illustrates the culmination of this effort. The flatness of the head and face - Giacometti's economical placement of smooth divots for definition - result in a bust that is at once abstract and figurative. And yet the underlying theme of the work, the act of gazing, invites viewers to ponder whether what they are looking at is in fact a mirror. When Gazing Head was first exhibited in Paris in 1929, it immediately grabbed the attention of the French Surrealists, beginning an association that would cement the early part of Giacometti's career.

Plaster - Alberto Giacometti-Stiftung, Zurich

Suspended Ball (1930-31)
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Suspended Ball (1930-31)

Artwork description & Analysis: Although works like Gazing Head caught the attention of the Surrealists, it was Suspended Ball, first exhibited at Galerie Pierre in 1930, that prompted André Breton to invite Giacometti to join the group. The sculpture's white globular form - at once floating freely and trapped in a cage - and the enigmatic segment below it, all evinced the dream-like and erotic qualities that the Surrealists adored. In fact, following the 1930 group exhibition, Salvador Dalí contributed an article on Surrealist objects for Breton's periodical, inspired by Suspended Ball. Despite this association with Breton's group, critics have also associated the sculpture with the ideas of Breton's rival, Georges Bataille. It has been argued that the elements in the sculpture are deliberately enigmatic, since while they seem to suggest a sexual act, it is unclear which element is male and which female. This confusion of categories has been said to encapsulate Bataille's notion of informe, or formlessness.

Metal, cord, plaster - Tate Gallery, London

Hands Holding the Void (Invisible Object) (1934)
Artwork Images

Hands Holding the Void (Invisible Object) (1934)

Artwork description & Analysis: Hands Holding the Void illustrates how Giacometti started to stray from the Surrealists after his brief association with the group. It was created as a monument to the artist's recently deceased father, embracing what the critic Carl Einstein called a "metaphysical realism." It incorporates certain primitive and Egyptian elements. The void the figure is holding is possibly the soul, or what the Egyptians called . While the Surrealists embraced this work, the figurative elements indicate that the artist was beginning to move beyond them.

Bronze - Museum of Modern Art, New York

City Square (1948)
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City Square (1948)

Artwork description & Analysis: The multi-figured City Square, while not Giacometti's first foray into the waif-like figures for which he is best known, is a stunning exercise in creating an impression of spacious landscape. Treading amidst an empty space, the figures - what Sartre called "moving outlines" - seem to rise out of nothing. In a 1960 review for The Nation, Fairfield Porter observed, "Giacometti's concern is to place the relationship of man and landscape with the ground. And he further considers man and everything else as having a dual relationship to the environment as a link between the earth and infinity." By this time Giacometti was well acquainted with Existentialism, and City Square could be interpreted along its lines, depicting as it does mankind as a mere shadow of itself, existing half-way between being and nothingness.

Painted bronze - Museum of Modern Art, New York

Annette with Chariot (1950)
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Annette with Chariot (1950)

Artwork description & Analysis: Although sculpture is the medium for which Giacometti is best known, he was also an accomplished painter and draughtsman. This 1950 oil work shows his skill at creating an impression of profound depth on a flat surface. The subject here is the artist's wife Annette, who is composed of the same lines and strokes used to depict the surrounding room, as if she herself were just another object. Nevertheless, like Giacometti's sculptural stick figures, Annette does subtly emerge from the composition, asserting her humanity amidst the otherwise bland order of the room. Much as some of the leading Existentialist thinkers of the time noted, Giacometti's mature work was an antidote to abstraction.

Oil on canvas - Private collection

Woman of Venice II (1956)
Artwork Images

Woman of Venice II (1956)

Artwork description & Analysis: Perhaps no other writer has better summed up Giacometti's bronze stick figures than Francis Ponge, who wrote in a 1951 article for Cahiers d'Art, "Man - and man alone - reduced to a thread - in the dilapidation and misery of the world - who searches for himself - starting from nothing... Man on a pavement like burning iron; who cannot lift his heavy feet." Like other works in this vein, Woman of Venice II shows a single figure, her body seemingly beaten almost to the point of disintegration, yet still standing tall and upright. At the heart of such works was the theme of human dignity and mankind's need to assert its existence in a vast universe that seems bent on its destruction.

Bronze - Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York



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Alberto Giacometti Photo

Related Art and Artists

Sleeping Muse I (1909-10)
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Sleeping Muse I (1909-10)

Artist: Constantin Brancusi

Artwork description & Analysis: Portraits, heads, and busts were frequent subjects for Brancusi, and he received several commissions for such work. With Sleeping Muse I, modeled on the Baroness Renee-Irana Frachon, Brancusi developed a distinctive form of the portrait bust, representing only its sitter's disembodied head. This work was Brancusi's first handling of the sleeping head, a thematic cycle that occupied the artist for roughly twenty years. The smoothness of the piece, achieved by the artist's practice of polishing the surface of his sculptures until they achieved a high gleam, contrasts with the carved definition of the sitter's facial features.

Marble - Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C.

Guernica (1937)
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Guernica (1937)

Artist: Pablo Picasso

Artwork description & Analysis: Guernica was Picasso's response to the bombing of the Basque town of the same name on April 26, 1937 during the Spanish Civil War. Painted in one month - from May to June 1937 - it became the centerpiece of the Spanish pavilion at the Paris World's Fair later that year. While it was a sensation at the fair, it was consequently banned from exhibition in Spain until military dictator Francisco Franco fell from power in 1975. Much time has been spent trying to decode the symbolism of the picture, and some believe that the dying horse in the center of the painting alludes to the people of Spain. The minotaur may allude to bull fighting, a favorite national past-time in Spain, though it also had complex personal significance for the artist. Although Guernica is undoubtedly modern art's most famous response to war, critics have been divided on its success as a painting.

Oil on canvas - Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, Madrid

The King Playing with the Queen (1944)
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The King Playing with the Queen (1944)

Artist: Max Ernst

Artwork description & Analysis: Among the mediums in which Ernst excelled was sculpture, such as in this prominent bronze. Similar to fellow Dadaist Marcel Duchamp, Ernst fancied chess playing as an art form unto itself. Ernst would often title his works with irrational titles, or tongue-in-cheek puns playing with words. Here, the enlarged king (most likely Ernst himself) plays with his diminutive queen (possibly his wife Dorothea Tanning) who herself is somewhat larger than the other pieces. The words "playing with" in the title might refer to sexual playing and games between the newlyweds, as well as the establishing of domestic order of married life.World War II was at its height in 1944 when Ernst along with Tanning spent the summer on Long Island as the guest of gallery owner Julien Levy; there, the couple often played chess. Ernst began a thorough examination into the intricacies of this game against the backdrop of global warfare. Earlier, in 1929, Ernst first modeled chess pieces that he turned into sculptures; he designed and executed several complete chessboards as well. Ernst's turn to chess as an artistic subject in the mid-1940s went beyond the technical merits of the game, instead probing what he thought were the game's literary and magical associations.

Bronze - Museum of Modern Art, New York

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