Giacometti. Die Spielfelder

From the Surrealist Models to the Chase Manhattan Plaza

25. Januar 2013 bis 19. Mai 2013

The precursors –
works from Giacometti's early years in Paris

Having been introduced to art by his father at a young age, Alberto Giacometti went to Paris to study sculpture in 1922. In his search for a mode of expression that more closely reflected his personal experience, Giacometti drew inspiration from the forms and powerful aura of African and Oceanic sculptures. He sought to represent reality in a symbolic manner, as in his notable sculpture Man and Woman, and employed a Cubist-oriented formal language.

The 'gameboard' sculptures

In the early 1930s Giacometti created Disagreeable Objects as well as cage-like sculptures which – in Suspended Ball – for the first time incorporated real movement, to be induced by the spectator. The third type of Surrealist sculpture he produced, involving a transitional space where internal and external reality meet, focussed on the model for a square. These multipart works with their radically new horizontal orientation are reminiscent in terms of their size, maquette-like appearance and mobility to tabletop-sized board games.

The conceptually complex and highly significant sketch Progetti per cose grandi all'aperto reveals a further aspect: Giacometti has drawn tiny human figures interacting with the sculptures and thereby determining a new scale.

Model for a Square – a (playing) field between art and life

Giacometti intended the outdoor sculptures he sketched in Progetti per cose grandi all'aperto to be produced in stone, wood and metal. For example, the small wooden sculpture Model for a Square – with its mysterious allusions to paradise, life and death – was conceived as a large-scale stone sculpture that would provide an approximately 3 m-wide (playing) field. His 'gameboard' sculptures were aimed at enabling the individual to encounter art and reality on an equal level, creating a stimulating field of action and tension that encompassed and involved the viewer. None of Giacometti's Surrealist projects were ultimately realised in public spaces.

Searching for reality –
space and time as a sculptural model for a public square

Life-sized female figures entered Giacometti's oeuvre with the creation of Walking Woman; rejecting the Surrealists' demand for the objecthood of artworks, he returned to working mainly from the live model. In 1934 he finally broke away from the Surrealist group.
The relationship between size and distance became a central concern of Giacometti's practice. From 1941 onwards, the attempt to model "figures and heads viewed in perspective" from memory resulted in them shrinking to the size of a pin.
Following Giacometti's return to Paris in 1945, his figures slowly increased in size as he became more intent on reproducing the phenomenological experience of observed reality: he sought to "render the essence of the figure", based above all on the experience of the self in reality. This new orientation was closely tied up with a process of self-reflection. In 1946, employing the practice of automatic writing used by the Surrealists, Giacometti reflected upon his individual self in relation to other people, as well as to space and time, in a programmatic narrative text entitled The Dream, the Sphinx and the Death of T. Here, the desire to give material form to a perceived connection between experiences, thoughts and fears ultimately leads Giacometti to create a 'time-space disc'.

This model of a horizontal, walk-in sculpture for a public square enables the spatial realisation of temporal relations and merges a place of personal recollection with the site of a supra-personal event – the same principles that generated the ambiguity of Giacometti's 'gameboard' sculptures.

Urban sites and natural environments

Giacometti developed his new style of elongated figures in drawings related to projects for public squares. This can already be seen in City Square, the first multi-figure sculpture he created after the war, which employs the structure of his early 'gameboard' sculptures but conveys the impression of movement through the figures themselves.
Giacometti was on a seemingly endless quest to perceive and capture the living presence of the person or place in front of him.
An arrangement of sculptures that "developed by chance from studies" on the floor of his studio reminded Giacometti of the view of the forests in the Bregaglia valley. In both The Forest and The Glade, he recorded this accidental grouping of figures – which evidently come from different realms with varying dimensions – as a sculptural composition on a common base supported by feet, recalling the table in his studio.

The studio as the artist's stage and his playing field

Giacometti's studio was the place in which his perspective upon the outside world – of urban spaces, natural environments or the models who sat for him – met his inward view of associated experiences and memories. This was where he explored and staged the interaction of art and life for more than 40 years.
Giacometti displays these art objects in the same meaningful manner as he presents everyday objects. With their curious interconnections and at the same time precise boundaries, all the elements appear to be related, in that they all contribute to the artistic process: the 18 m2 studio in the barracks-like building complex on 46, rue Hippolyte-Maindron becomes Giacometti's playing field.

Annette and Diego in the studio –
from the model to perception

The studio continued to serve Giacometti as a playing field for portrait sittings that could last for months. The physical dimensions of the space, which remained the same for over 40 years, were the essential constant factor in an 'experimental arrangement' that governed his encounters with the individual sitters. The models had to follow the fixed rules laid down by the artist: for instance, on the floor of the studio there was a red mark indicating the precise spot of the model's chair: to the right behind the easel, at a fixed distance of 1.4 m and at a 45-degree angle to the artist.
Giacometti's extensive studies of the two models who were closest to him – his brother Diego and his wife Annette – were continued in countless male heads and sitting or standing female figures.

The study of human heads in the studio from object to subject

The intense exchange of gaze between Giacometti and each respective model enabled the artist to continually have new perceptual experiences in the unchanging surroundings of the studio. For him, 'looking' meant 'being', and only through the gaze did a head constitute a living entity.
In the context of his studio, Giacometti also explored the interaction between the head, the surrounding space and the other elements within it, similar to an animated still life. From 1950 onwards he increasingly integrated the sculptures into this game, drawing and painting them as if they were real people.

Standing figures in the studio –
cult images of human existence

Giacometti's depictions of hieratically remote, standing female figures reflect another way of relating to fellow human beings.
Around 1953, following on from the somewhat phantasmal, narrow figures, Giacometti began creating more naturalistic standing nudes that were modelled on his wife Annette. He combined both approaches in Women of Venice, created for the 1956 Biennale. These idol-like sculptures were different states of a single figure recorded in the form of casts, illustrating Giacometti's quest for presence.

Walking Man – the chance to fulfil a long-held ambition

The figure of a walking man entered Giacometti's oeuvre as a counterpart to the hieratic frontality of the standing female form.
While the first walking man was based upon the ancient Egyptian concept of entering the realm of death, the figure became increasingly autonomous and narrower, occupying and traversing a space of its own. It became a symbol, the embodiment of striving humanity – constantly seeking and moving endlessly forward – which corresponded to Giacometti's conception of himself as an artist.

Model and reality – the game of chance

On the table in his studio, with the aid of an architectural model he had been sent by his client in New York, Giacometti developed the figural group he envisaged for the huge plaza of the Chase Manhattan Bank. He made tiny maquettes of Walking Man, Monumental Head and Large Standing Woman and experimented with their positioning on the cardboard model, as the relationship of the three sculptures to each other presented a particular challenge.
Also in his studio, right next to the miniature models, Giacometti then produced full-size versions of the sculptures in plaster and clay, creating many different versions of the almost 3 m-high figures. Increasingly he incorporated the element of chance as his (co-)player.

The totality of life – playing for time

The Chase Manhattan group marked the culmination of the three main themes Giacometti had focussed on almost exclusively in his post-war sculptural oeuvre. For him, this configuration symbolised the relationship between fundamental aspects of human life. Walking Man can be interpreted as the embodiment of human striving, while Monumental Head can be regarded as a symbol of 'seeing consciousness' and Large Standing Woman can be identified with a cult image.