Posts Tagged ‘Giacometti

27
Dec
20

European art research tour exhibition: ‘Alberto Giacometti’ at the Trade Fair Palace, National Gallery Prague

Exhibition dates: 18th July – 1st December 2019, posted December 2020

Curators: Julia Tatiana Bailey (NGP), Catherine Grenier (Fondation Giacometti), Serena Bucalo-Mussely (Fondation Giacometti)

 

 

Installation view of the entrance to the exhibition 'Alberto Giacometti' at the Trade Fair Palace, National Gallery Prague

 

Installation view of the entrance to the exhibition Alberto Giacometti at the Trade Fair Palace, National Gallery Prague
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

The last posting for this year. What an excellent way to finish off what has been an incredibly long, stressful and tragic time. I am thinking of all my readers and sending them good energies for the year ahead. I saw this exhibition during my European sojourn last September… it seems a long time ago now.

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The revelations

The beauty, darkness and intensity of Giacometti’s paintings. Most unexpected.
The fecundity, malleability and darkness of his busts of men.

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The highlight

The large Walking Man I (1960)

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The disappointment

That there was only one Walking Man in the exhibition (Giacometti cast six numbered editions plus four artist proofs). I wanted to see a whole forest of them!

 

What a privilege to see this exhibition.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

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All iPhone images © Marcus Bunyan. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

“In my finished work I find transformed and relocated images, impressions, events that deeply affected me (often without me realising it), forms that are very close to me, even if I am often not able to name them, which makes them even more mysterious.”

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Alberto Giacometti

 

 

The retrospective presents the works by one of the major 20th-century artists, sculptor and painter Alberto Giacometti (1901⁠-1966) for the first time in the Czech milieu.

His main theme was the human figure. He became well-known for compelling elongated figures done after World War II, but no less important are his artworks from the interwar period, when he was a key member of the Paris avant-garde. The National Gallery Prague prepares this exhibition in cooperation with the Paris-based Fondation Giacometti, which administers the estate of Annette and Alberto Giacometti. The selection of the exhibits from its collections, which is shown in the Trade Fair Palace, includes more than one hundred sculptures (including rare originals of plaster), paintings and drawings from all Giacometti’s creative periods, from the 1920s to 1960s.

 

 

Installation view of the entrance to the exhibition 'Alberto Giacometti' at the Trade Fair Palace, National Gallery Prague

Installation view of the entrance to the exhibition 'Alberto Giacometti' at the Trade Fair Palace, National Gallery Prague

Installation view of the entrance to the exhibition 'Alberto Giacometti' at the Trade Fair Palace, National Gallery Prague

 

Installation views of the opening of the exhibition Alberto Giacometti at the Trade Fair Palace, National Gallery Prague
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

A family of artists

Installation view of the exhibition 'Alberto Giacometti' at the Trade Fair Palace, National Gallery Prague

Installation view of the exhibition 'Alberto Giacometti' at the Trade Fair Palace, National Gallery Prague

Installation view of the exhibition 'Alberto Giacometti' at the Trade Fair Palace, National Gallery Prague

Installation view of the exhibition 'Alberto Giacometti' at the Trade Fair Palace, National Gallery Prague

 

Installation views of the exhibition Alberto Giacometti at the Trade Fair Palace, National Gallery Prague
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

Alberto Giacometti (Swiss, 1901-1966) 'Large Head of Mother' 1925

 

Alberto Giacometti (Swiss, 1901-1966)
Large Head of Mother (installation view)
1925
Plaster
Fondation Giacometti, Paris
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Alberto Giacometti (Swiss, 1901-1966) 'Head of Father (Round II)' 1927-1930

 

Alberto Giacometti (Swiss, 1901-1966)
Head of Father (Round II) (installation view)
1927-1930
Plaster
Fondation Giacometti, Paris
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

For the very first time in the Czech Republic, the National Gallery Prague presents the work of one of the most important, influential and beloved artists of the 20th century, the sculptor and painter Alberto Giacometti (1901-1966).

This extensive retrospective exhibition maps Giacometti’s artistic development across five decades. It follows its course from the artist’s early years in the Swiss town of Stampa, through his avant-garde experiments in inter-war Paris and up to its culmination in the unique manner of figural representation for which the artist is known best. His impressive elongated figures, which Giacometti created after World War II and which carry a sense of existential urgency, reflect his sense for the fragility and vulnerability of the human being.

Thanks to a joint collaboration with the Fondation Giacometti in Paris, who administers the estate of Annette and Alberto Giacometti, we are able to present over one hundred sculptures, including a series of valuable plaster statuettes, to the Czech audience. The exhibition will also feature several of Giacometti’s key paintings and drawings that testify to the breadth of his technical ability and thematic ambit,” says Julia Bailey, the exhibition’s curator from the NGP’s Collection of Modern and Contemporary Art. The exhibition at the Trade Fair Palace will feature such notable examples of Giacometti’s works as Walking Man, Standing Woman or his Women of Venice, which intrigued audiences at the famous Italian Biennale in 1956, as well as several other of his iconic works such as Spoon Woman, Woman with Chariot, Nose and valuable miniature plaster sculptures, intimate portraits of the artist’s family and friends who have been Giacometti’s favourite models all life long.

Giacometti, whom Jean-Paul Sartre described as one of the most important existential artists, refused strictly realistic representation because he perceived an insurmountable abyss between reality and art. “The originality of Giacometti’s work lies in the fact that it is situated on the very edge of this chasm. He internalised his earlier struggle with representation to such an extent that it became a motive force for his art,” explains Catherine Grenier, director of the Fondation Giacometti, President of the Giacometti Institute, and co-curator of the show.

The exhibition Alberto Giacometti, prepared by the National Gallery in collaboration with the Fondation Giacometti in Paris, will open on 18 July 2019 on the first floor of the Trade Fair Palace and run until 1 December 2019. It will be complemented by a rich accompanying programme as well as a companion volume.

Press release from the National Gallery Prague

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Alberto Giacometti' at the Trade Fair Palace, National Gallery Prague

 

Installation view of the exhibition Alberto Giacometti at the Trade Fair Palace, National Gallery Prague
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Alberto Giacometti (Swiss, 1901-1966) 'Gazing Head' 1929

 

Alberto Giacometti (Swiss, 1901-1966)
Gazing Head (installation view)
1929
Plaster
Fondation Giacometti, Paris
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Alberto Giacometti' at the Trade Fair Palace, National Gallery Prague

 

Installation view of the exhibition Alberto Giacometti at the Trade Fair Palace, National Gallery Prague showing at centre, Suspended Ball 1930-31
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Alberto Giacometti (Swiss, 1901-1966) 'Suspended Ball' 1930-31

 

Alberto Giacometti (Swiss, 1901-1966)
Suspended Ball (installation view)
1930-31
Plaster, metal and string
Fondation Giacometti, Paris
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

In the magazine Le Surréalisme au service de la Révolution, Salvador Dalí presented this work as the prototype “object with a symbolic function”. The potential swinging of the ball on the crescent simultaneously suggests the softness of a caress and the violence of an incision. The erotic dimension is obvious, reinforced by the idea of movement. It is the first example of Giacometti’s “cage” works.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Alberto Giacometti' at the Trade Fair Palace, National Gallery Prague

Installation view of the exhibition 'Alberto Giacometti' at the Trade Fair Palace, National Gallery Prague

Installation view of the exhibition 'Alberto Giacometti' at the Trade Fair Palace, National Gallery Prague

 

Installation view of the exhibition Alberto Giacometti at the Trade Fair Palace, National Gallery Prague showing at left in the top photograph, Cubist figures / couples, and at right in the bottom photograph, Pocket-Tray 1930-1931
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Alberto Giacometti (Swiss, 1901-1966) 'Pocket-Tray' 1930-1931

 

Alberto Giacometti (Swiss, 1901-1966)
Pocket-Tray (installation view)
1930-1931
Painted plaster
Fondation Giacometti, Paris
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Alberto Giacometti (Swiss, 1901-1966) 'Cubist Figure I' c. 1926 (left) and 'The Couple' 1926 (right)

 

Left

Alberto Giacometti (Swiss, 1901-1966)
Cubist Figure I (installation view)
c. 1926
Plaster
Fondation Giacometti, Paris

Right

Alberto Giacometti (Swiss, 1901-1966)
The Couple (installation view)
1926
Plaster
Fondation Giacometti, Paris
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Alberto Giacometti (Swiss, 1901-1966) 'Composition (known as Cubist I, Couple)' and 'Composition (known as Cubist II, Couple)' 1926-1927

 

Left

Alberto Giacometti (Swiss, 1901-1966)
Composition (known as Cubist I, Couple) (installation view)
1926-1927
Plaster
Fondation Giacometti, Paris

Right

Alberto Giacometti (Swiss, 1901-1966)
Composition (known as Cubist II, Couple) (installation view)
c. 1927
Plaster
Fondation Giacometti, Paris
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

For the first time in history the Trade Fair Palace presented to Czech visitors the work of one of the most important, most influential and also most popular 20th century artists. Alberto Giacometti was not only a sculptor, but also a painter. The exhibition offered a new interpretation of Giacometti’s work focused on the human figure. The works, which had not yet been exhibited or are not exhibited often, included iconic pieces from each period of his career. More than 170 statues, pictures and graphics were on display. The retrospective exhibition was divided into nine chronological, topical units. They mapped Giacometti’s journey through the decades, from growing up in Stampa, Switzerland, to avant-garde experiments in interwar Paris and the climax in his unique displaying of the body. It is the impressive, existential figures that he created during the Second World War and that reflect the author’s feeling for the fragility and vulnerability of a human being that made the artist most famous. The individual groups included a whole number of large photographs with Giacometti, the exhibition also contained a video in which the artist spoke of his work and an interactive studio. The cherry on top was, at the end of the exhibition, the bronze Walking Man from 1960. The statue was placed against a white background, so the dark silhouette stood out, and illuminated so that it cast several shadows. This gave rise to a multiform image of one item.

Anonymous text from the Lexxus Norton website 20th September 2019 [Online] Cited 19/12/2020

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Alberto Giacometti' at the Trade Fair Palace, National Gallery Prague

Installation view of the exhibition 'Alberto Giacometti' at the Trade Fair Palace, National Gallery Prague

 

Installation view of the exhibition Alberto Giacometti at the Trade Fair Palace, National Gallery Prague showing at left Very Small Figurine (1937-1939), and at right Woman with Chariot (1943-1945)
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

Tiny sculptures

During the war, Giacometti left for Geneva and produced tiny works in a hotel room that he transformed into his studio. Those motifs in miniature were placed on pedestals integrated into the sculpture, for which he experimented with variations in form and size.

He worked from memory on figures seen from afar, in an attempt to sculpt “the distance”. The Very Small Figurine in plaster [at left in the above photograph] was made from memory of Isabel Delmer in the distance on a Parisian boulevard. It barely measures a few centimetres but it is as monumental as Woman with Chariot, the only piece Giacometti sculpted in a large dimension during the war [at right in the above photograph].

 

Alberto Giacometti (Swiss, 1901-1966) 'Woman with Chariot' 1943-1945 (detail)

 

Alberto Giacometti (Swiss, 1901-1966)
Woman with Chariot (installation view detail)
1943-1945
Plaster and wood
Fondation Giacometti, Paris
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Alberto Giacometti (Swiss, 1901-1966) 'Tall Woman Seated' 1958

 

Alberto Giacometti (Swiss, 1901-1966)
Tall Woman Seated (installation view)
1958
Bronze
Fondation Giacometti, Paris
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Alberto Giacometti (Swiss, 1901-1966) 'Bust of Annette X' 1965 (left) and 'Bust of Annette, Venice' 1962 (right)

 

Left

Alberto Giacometti (Swiss, 1901-1966)
Bust of Annette X (installation view)
1965
Plaster
Fondation Giacometti, Paris

Right

Alberto Giacometti (Swiss, 1901-1966)
Bust of Annette, Venice (installation view)
1962
Plaster
Fondation Giacometti, Paris
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

Annette Arm met Giacometti in Genova in 1943, and became his wife in 1949. She was to be one of Alberto’s favourite models. The representations of Annette evolved throughout the years and transformed in line with the artist’s state of mind and according to his vision of the moment. Annette’s attitude is often solemn, her eyes fixed in front of her. For Giacometti the gaze was the absolute sign of life: “When I manage to capture the expression in the eyes, everything else follows.”

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Alberto Giacometti' at the Trade Fair Palace, National Gallery Prague

 

Installation view of the exhibition Alberto Giacometti at the Trade Fair Palace, National Gallery Prague
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Alberto Giacometti (Swiss, 1901-1966) 'Bust of a Man (known as New York I)' 1965

 

Alberto Giacometti (Swiss, 1901-1966)
Bust of a Man (known as New York I) (installation view)
1965
Bronze
Fondation Giacometti, Paris
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Alberto Giacometti (Swiss, 1901-1966) 'Bust of a Man (known as New York II)' 1965

 

Alberto Giacometti (Swiss, 1901-1966)
Bust of a Man (known as New York II) (installation view)
1965
Bronze
Fondation Giacometti, Paris
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Alberto Giacometti (Swiss, 1901-1966) 'Bust of Diego' 1962

 

Alberto Giacometti (Swiss, 1901-1966)
Bust of Diego (installation view)
1962
Bronze
Fondation Giacometti, Paris
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Alberto Giacometti (Swiss, 1901-1966) 'Bust of a Man' 1956

 

Alberto Giacometti (Swiss, 1901-1966)
Bust of a Man (installation view)
1956
Bronze
Fondation Giacometti, Paris
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Alberto Giacometti (Swiss, 1901-1966) 'Tall Thin Head' 1954

 

Installation view of the exhibition Alberto Giacometti at the Trade Fair Palace, National Gallery Prague showing Tall Thin Head 1954
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Alberto Giacometti (Swiss, 1901-1966) 'Tall Thin Head' 1954

Alberto Giacometti (Swiss, 1901-1966) 'Tall Thin Head' 1954

 

Alberto Giacometti (Swiss, 1901-1966)
Tall Thin Head (installation views)
1954
Bronze
Fondation Giacometti, Paris

 

 

This bust of Diego gathers two very different views into a single one. Worked with the “blade of a knife”, the facial features are aligned according to a slightly askew axis, with the extreme narrowness provoking the sensation of disappearing into space. Seen in profile, the compact form defines the craggy contours of the nose, the half open mouth and the chin, all dominated by a skull stretched upwards.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Alberto Giacometti' at the Trade Fair Palace, National Gallery Prague

 

Installation view of the exhibition Alberto Giacometti at the Trade Fair Palace, National Gallery Prague showing some of his paintings
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Alberto Giacometti' at the Trade Fair Palace, National Gallery Prague

 

Installation view of the exhibition Alberto Giacometti at the Trade Fair Palace, National Gallery Prague showing at right centre, The Cage 1950-51 (bronze, Fondation Giacometti, Paris)
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

The Cage, 1950-51

Between 1949 and 1951, Giacometti went back to the device of the cage invented for Suspended Ball. The legs raise to a certain height the table on which the figures are presented: two characters, arranged on a board, a spindly woman, and a male character, reduced to a bust directly placed on the floor. The cage is used to define the space and frame the scene.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Alberto Giacometti' at the Trade Fair Palace, National Gallery Prague

 

Installation view of the exhibition Alberto Giacometti at the Trade Fair Palace, National Gallery Prague showing at centre left, Four Women on a Base 1950 (bronze, Fondation Giacometti, Paris)
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Alberto Giacometti (Swiss, 1901-1966) 'Four Women on a Base' 1950

 

Alberto Giacometti (Swiss, 1901-1966)
Four Women on a Base (installation view)
1950
Bronze
Fondation Giacometti, Paris
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Alberto Giacometti' at the Trade Fair Palace, National Gallery Prague

Installation view of the exhibition 'Alberto Giacometti' at the Trade Fair Palace, National Gallery Prague

Alberto Giacometti (Swiss, 1901-1966) 'Women of Venice' 1956 (installation view detail)

Alberto Giacometti (Swiss, 1901-1966) 'Women of Venice' 1956 (installation view detail)

 

Installation views of the exhibition Alberto Giacometti at the Trade Fair Palace, National Gallery Prague showing Women of Venice 1956 (plaster and painted plaster, Fondation Giacometti, Paris)
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

Women of Venice, 1956

The Women of Venice owe their name to the Venice Biennale, where six plaster sculptures from the series were exhibited in 1956. Giacometti made nudes in clay, which were cast by his brother Diego as he proceeded. The plaster pieces were then reworked with a knife and enhanced with paint. The aspect of the women owes a lot to the use of soft clay imprinted with the marks of the artist’s fingers.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Alberto Giacometti' at the Trade Fair Palace, National Gallery Prague

 

Installation view of the exhibition Alberto Giacometti at the Trade Fair Palace, National Gallery Prague with The Glade 1950 in the foreground with Women of Venice 1956 in the background
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Alberto Giacometti (Swiss, 1901-1966) 'The Glade' 1950 (installation view)

 

Alberto Giacometti (Swiss, 1901-1966)
The Glade (installation view)
1950
Bronze
Fondation Giacometti, Paris
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Alberto Giacometti (Swiss, 1901-1966) 'The Forest' 1950 (installation view)

 

Alberto Giacometti (Swiss, 1901-1966)
The Forest (installation view)
1950
Bronze
Fondation Giacometti, Paris
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

The Forest, 1950

Giacometti said that one day he place some figures on the floor of the studio to make room on his worktable. Chance organised them in positions that he kept and then rear-arranged in two separate works, The Glade and The Forest. This sculpture reminded him of a place in the forest visited during childhood, where trees made him think of characters talking to one another, immobilised in the act of walking.

 

Making a portrait

Installation view of the exhibition 'Alberto Giacometti' at the Trade Fair Palace, National Gallery Prague

Installation view of the exhibition 'Alberto Giacometti' at the Trade Fair Palace, National Gallery Prague

Installation view of the exhibition 'Alberto Giacometti' at the Trade Fair Palace, National Gallery Prague

 

Installation views of the exhibition Alberto Giacometti at the Trade Fair Palace, National Gallery Prague showing in the bottom image at second left Isaku Yanaihara 1956-57, and at right Yanaihara in Profile 1956
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

Alberto Giacometti (Swiss, 1901-1966) 'Isaku Yanaihara' 1956-57 (installation view)

 

Alberto Giacometti (Swiss, 1901-1966)
Isaku Yanaihara (installation view)
1956-57
Oil on canvas
Fondation Giacometti, Paris
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

Professor of Philosophy at the University of Osaka in Japan, Isaku Yanaihara met Giacometti in 1955 at an interview. Fascinated by his face, the artist made him one of his main models. The philosophy returned almost every summer between 1956 and 1961 to sit for two sculpted busts, twenty or so painted portraits and numerous drawn portraits.

 

Alberto Giacometti (Swiss, 1901-1966) 'Yanaihara in Profile' 1956 (installation view)

 

Alberto Giacometti (Swiss, 1901-1966)
Yanaihara in Profile (installation view)
1956
Oil on canvas
Fondation Giacometti, Paris
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

Alberto Giacometti (10 October 1901 – 11 January 1966) was a Swiss sculptor, painter, draftsman and printmaker. Beginning in 1922, he lived and worked mainly in Paris but regularly visited his hometown Borgonovo to see his family and work on his art.

Giacometti was one of the most important sculptors of the 20th century. His work was particularly influenced by artistic styles such as Cubism and Surrealism. Philosophical questions about the human condition, as well as existential and phenomenological debates played a significant role in his work. Around 1935 he gave up on his Surrealistic influences in order to pursue a more deepened analysis of figurative compositions. Giacometti wrote texts for periodicals and exhibition catalogues and recorded his thoughts and memories in notebooks and diaries. His self-critical nature led to great doubts about his work and his ability to do justice to his own artistic ideas but acted as a great motivating force.

Between 1938 and 1944 Giacometti’s sculptures had a maximum height of seven centimetres (2.75 inches). Their small size reflected the actual distance between the artist’s position and his model. In this context he self-critically stated: “But wanting to create from memory what I had seen, to my terror the sculptures became smaller and smaller”. After World War II, Giacometti created his most famous sculptures: his extremely tall and slender figurines. These sculptures were subject to his individual viewing experience – between an imaginary yet real, a tangible yet inaccessible space.

In Giacometti’s whole body of work, his painting constitutes only a small part. After 1957, however, his figurative paintings were equally as present as his sculptures. His almost monochromatic paintings of his late work do not refer to any other artistic styles of modernity.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Alberto Giacometti' at the Trade Fair Palace, National Gallery Prague

Installation view of the exhibition 'Alberto Giacometti' at the Trade Fair Palace, National Gallery Prague

 

Installation views of the exhibition Alberto Giacometti at the Trade Fair Palace, National Gallery Prague showing at left in the bottom photograph, Stele III 1958
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Alberto Giacometti (Swiss, 1901-1966) 'Stele III' 1958 (installation view detail)

 

Alberto Giacometti (Swiss, 1901-1966)
Stele III (installation view detail)
1958
Plaster
Fondation Giacometti, Paris
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Alberto Giacometti (Swiss, 1901-1966) 'The Nose' 1947

 

Alberto Giacometti (Swiss, 1901-1966)
The Nose (installation view)
1947
Bronze, painted metal and cotton string
Fondation Giacometti, Paris
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

This extraordinary head suspended in a void is the representation of a nightmare that deeply upset the artist following a traumatic experience in 1921. After witnessing the death of Pieter van Meurs, whom he had met while travelling, Giacometti became fascinated by the nose that appeared to be growing continually even after life had left his body. [See also the gaping mouth of the sculpture Head on a Rod 1947]

 

1921: At the beginning of the summer he travels yet again to Italy, and on the train he meets a mysterious man, an old Dutchman named Peter van Meurs, who would later contact Giacometti with an invitation to become his travel companion. Giacometti, hungry for adventure and wanting to avoid wasting time in school, which he resented, he was finally given permission by his parents, reluctantly, to embark on the adventure. He was only 19, years of age. However, as fate would have it, the adventure was cut short by the unexpected death of the old Dutchman.

 

The Death of van Meurs

The following story is told by James Lord in his excellent book: Giacometti, A Biography:

“Van Meurs was not handsome. He had thick fleshy features … If he was a homosexual there is no reason to assume he was an active or even conscious one. … The travellers set  out on September 3, 1921 … they went to the Grand Hotel ds Alpes, built on the ruins of an ancient monastery.

The following day was Sunday. Rain was falling on the mountainsides, on the forest, and on the fields around the hotel. It was cold. Van Meurs awoke unwell and in sever pain.  He suffered from kidney stones … The hotel luckily had a doctor attached to the staff. He was called, examined van Meurs, and gave him an injection to ease the pain.

Alberto remained by the bedside of the elderly Dutchman. Having brought with him a copy of Flaubert’s Bouvard et Pecuchet, he began to read the introductory essay by Guy de Maupassant. In it there is a passage which may have seemed striking to the impressionable young artist as he sat by the bed of this sick man whom he barley knew.

Speaking of Flaubert, Maupassant says:

“Those people who are altogether happy, strong and healthy: are they adequately prepared to understand, to penetrate, and to express this life we live, so tormented, so short? Are they made, the exuberant and outgoing, for the discovery of all those afflictions and all those sufferings which beset us, for the knowledge that death strikes without surcease, every day and everywhere, ferocious, blind, fatal? So it is possible, it is probable, that the first seizure of epilepsy made a deep mark of melancholy and fear upon the mind of this robust youth. It is probable that thereafter a kind of apprehension toward life remained with him, a manner somewhat more somber of considering things, a suspicion of outward events, a mistrust of apparent happiness.”

Outside the window, rain continued to fall … but [van Meurs] showed no sign of improving. On the contrary. His cheeks had become sunken, and he was barely breathing through his open mouth.

Alberto took paper and pencil and began to draw the sick man “to see him more clearly, to try to grasp and hold the sight before his eyes, to understand it, to make something permanent of the experience of the moment.” He drew the sunken cheeks, the open mouth, and the fleshy nose which even as he watched seemed bizarrely to be growing longer and longer. Then it suddenly occurred to him that van Meurs was going to die. All alone in that remote hotel, with rain pouring on the rocky mountaintops outside, Alberto was seized by blind fear.

Toward the end of the afternoon, the doctor returned  and examined the sick man again. Taking Alberto aside, he said, “Its finished. The heart’s failing. Tonight he’ll be dead.”

Nightfall came.  Hours passed.  Peter van Meurs died.

In that instant everything changed for Alberto Giacometti forever. He said so, and never ceased saying so. The subsequent testimony of his lifetime showed that it was the truth.  Till then he had had no idea, no inkling of what death was. He had never seen it. He had thought of life as possessing a force, a persistence, a permanence of its own, and of death as a fateful occurrence which might somehow enhance the solemnity, and even the value, of life. Now he had seen death. It had been present for an instant before his eyes with a power which reduced life to nothingness. He had witnessed the transition from being to non-being. Where there had formerly been a man, now there remained only refuse. What had once seemed valuable and solemn was now visibly absurd and trivial. He had seen that life is frail, uncertain, transitory.

In that instant, everything seemed as vulnerable as van Meurs. Everything was threatened in the essence of its being. From the most infinitesimal speck of matter to the great galaxies and the whole universe itself, everything was precious, perishable. Human survival above all appeared haphazard and preposterous.

James Lord then quotes Giacometti’s own words: … “For me it was an abominable trap. In a few hours van Meurs had become an object, nothing. Then death became possible at every moment for me, for everyone. It was like a warning. So much had come about by chance: the meeting, the train, the advertisement [placed by van Meurs in the newspaper]. As if everything had been prepared to make me witness this wretched end. My whole life certainly shifted in one stroke on that day. Everything became fragile for me.”

Alberto did not rest well that night. He did not dare go to sleep for fear he might never wake. He was so afraid of the dark, as if the extinction of light were the extinction of life, as if the loss of sight were the loss of everything. All night, he kept the light burning. [and every night of his life thereafter]. He shook himself repeatedly to try to stay awake. … Then suddenly it seemed to him in his half-sleep that his mouth was hanging open like the mouth of the dying man, and he started awake in terror.”

James Lord quoted in Steven D. Foster. “Homage to Giacometti Part 5: Regarding His Fear of Death,” on the Steven D. Foster – Photographs: The Departing Landscape website September 10, 2017 [Online] Cited 20/12/2020.

 

Alberto Giacometti (Swiss, 1901-1966) 'Head on a Rod' 1947 (installation view)

 

Alberto Giacometti (Swiss, 1901-1966)
Head on a Rod (installation view)
1947
Painted plaster and metal
Fondation Giacometti, Paris
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Standing Figures

Installation view of the exhibition 'Alberto Giacometti' at the Trade Fair Palace, National Gallery Prague

Installation view of the exhibition 'Alberto Giacometti' at the Trade Fair Palace, National Gallery Prague

Installation view of the exhibition 'Alberto Giacometti' at the Trade Fair Palace, National Gallery Prague

Installation view of the exhibition 'Alberto Giacometti' at the Trade Fair Palace, National Gallery Prague

 

Installation views of the exhibition Alberto Giacometti at the Trade Fair Palace, National Gallery Prague showing in the bottom photograph, Woman Leoni 1947-1958
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

Alberto Giacometti (Swiss, 1901-1966) 'Woman Leoni' 1947-1958 (installation view detail)

 

Alberto Giacometti (Swiss, 1901-1966)
Woman Leoni (installation view detail)
1947-1958
Painted plaster
Fondation Giacometti, Paris
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Alberto Giacometti (Swiss, 1901-1966) 'Standing Nude on a Cubic Base' 1953 (installation view)

 

Alberto Giacometti (Swiss, 1901-1966)
Standing Nude on a Cubic Base (installation view)
1953
Painted plaster
Fondation Giacometti, Paris
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Alberto Giacometti' at the Trade Fair Palace, National Gallery Prague

 

Installation views of the exhibition Alberto Giacometti at the Trade Fair Palace, National Gallery Prague showing Walking Man I 1960
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

Alberto Giacometti (Swiss, 1901-1966) 'Walking Man I' 1960

 

Alberto Giacometti (Swiss, 1901-1966)
Walking Man I (installation view)
1960
Bronze
Fondation Giacometti, Paris
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

THE LAST ART WORK IN THE EXHIBITION

In 1959, the architect Gordon Bunshaft commissioned a monumental sculpture for the plaza of the Chase Manhattan Bank in New York. Giacometti chose three figures that sum up his work in a definitive manner: a standing woman, a head and a walking man. Unsatisfied with the result he decided to abandon the project. However, the work gave life to several sculptures that the artist had cast in bronze from 1960, including two versions of Walking Man.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Alberto Giacometti' at the Trade Fair Palace, National Gallery Prague

Installation view of the exhibition 'Alberto Giacometti' at the Trade Fair Palace, National Gallery Prague

 

Installation view of the exhibition Alberto Giacometti at the Trade Fair Palace, National Gallery Prague showing
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

National Gallery Prague
Trade Fair Palace
Dukelských hrdinů 47, 170 00 Prague 7

Opening hours:
Tue, Thu, Fri, Sat, Sun: 10.00 – 18.00
Wed: 10.00 – 20.00

National Gallery Prague website

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18
May
14

Exhibition: ‘Wols: Cosmos and Street’ at the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid

Exhibition dates: 14th February – 26th May 2014

 

How lucky we are!

Two consecutive postings on the German artist Wols (a pseudonym for Alfred Otto Wolfgang Schulze May 27, 1913, Berlin – September 1, 1951, Paris), who is today considered a pioneer of Lyrical Abstraction – a type of abstract painting related to Abstract Expressionism undertaken in the post-war years by mainly French artists. He is also considered to be one of the most influential artists of the Art Informel and Tachisme movements. Both movements were opposed not only to Cubist and Surrealist movements that preceded it, but also to geometric abstraction (or “cold abstraction”).

Lyrical abstraction represented an opening to personal expression: Wols was not only a painter and photographer but he also wrote poems and aphorisms and studied the philosophy of Lao Tzu. This fascinating exhibition connects Wols’s photography, drawing and painting, and argues that his art forms (in)formed each other. The number of artists that have successfully worked in both mediums is limited, but as Wols shows they are not, and never have been, mutually exclusive.

The great sadness is that Wols was another talented artist who died young, at the age of just 38 – collateral damage of the conflagration that was the Second World War. He was an army deserter when he moved to Paris and was interned for 14 months at the start of the war, only to be released to live near Marseilles in 1940. The occupation of Southern France by the Germans in 1942 forced him to flee and he spent most of the rest of the war trying unsuccessfully to escape to America. During this time his alcoholism developed, an addiction that caused poor health and which, along with food poisoning, was ultimately to cost him his life.

His photographs have a chthonic darkness. They inhabit a tenebrous reality, a shadowy underworld. Just look at Untitled (Cobblestone) (1932-1942, below) and observe how the dampness of the water seems to have the viscosity of congealed blood. During his internment he produced, as the press release states, “some of the strangest, most intricate and beautiful drawings of modern times.” They possess a certain, undefinable magic, filled as they are with amorphous animals and plants, filled with amour, a secret love. And finally his paintings – shattering, disturbing, bloody, hairy, earthbound and cerebral, homologous to wiring looms of the mind and/or the molecular structure of atoms – circling and popping and fizzing and scrapping their way into existence… creating an expanded conception of space and time that is both micro (cellular) and macro (celestial).

Wols has to be one of the most interesting artists of the 20th century and, elementally, one of its greatest. Such a pity that he died so young.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for the Art Blart blog
.
Many thankx to the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía for allowing me to publish the photographs and art work in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image

 

 

Wols. 'Untitled' 1932-1941

 

Wols
Untitled
1932-1941
Silver gelatin print
14.9 x 18.2 cm
Kunsthaus Zurich

 

Wols. 'Untitled' Nd / 1976

 

Wols
Untitled
Nd / 1976
Silver gelatin print
18.7 x 24 cm
Institute for Foreign Cultural Relations, Stuttgart

 

Wols. 'Pepona doll on the cobbles' 1938-39

 

Wols
Pepona doll on the cobbles
1938-39
Silver gelatin print
23 x 17 cm
Acquisition 2004
Centre Pompidou, Paris
National Museum of Modern Art/Centre for Industrial Creation

 

Wols. 'Untitled (Cobblestone)' 1932-1942 / 1976

 

Wols
Untitled (Cobblestone)
1932-1942 / 1976
Gelatin silver print
18.7 x 24 cm
Institute for Foreign Cultural Relations, Stuttgart
© VEGAP, Madrid, 2014

 

 

“Wols is one of the most intriguing figures in 20th-century art. Born Otto Wolfgang Schulze into an upper middle class family in Berlin, he broke with Germany as the Nazis were coming to power, changed his name to Wols, and lived the rest of his life in France. During the 1930s he was best known as a photographer. The outbreak of the Second World War changed everything. As the citizen of a hostile country, Wols was continuously displaced from one French domicile, prison or internment camp to another. In these precarious conditions he started to draw in earnest, often by candlelight, lying on his bunk. In the harshness of the camps he developed the alcohol-dependency which contributed to his early death in 1951. At the same time he produced some of the strangest, most intricate and beautiful drawings of modern times.

Wols: Cosmos and Street does not attempt a survey of Wols’s work, nor a retrospective with a chronological structure. A significant aspect of Wols’s practice was that he did not title or date his works. Titles, somewhat over-poetic, were added later by his wife Gréty, and by friends such as the writer Henri-Pierre Roché. Instead, the exhibition presents his work in terms of two distinct kinds of ‘graphism’: one of the light (photography) and one of the line (drawing). It is true that in chronological terms photography came earlier in Wols’s life and was adopted partly for contingent reasons of making a living. He was intermittently a professional photographer but remained always a ‘poetic’ photographer with a inimitable eye.

In the exhibition title, “Street” stands for the everyday, earthbound, nitty-gritty human world revealed in Wols’s photographs. “Cosmos” stands for Wols’s exquisite drawings creating a vision of universal energy expressed in fluid constructs of biological and organic forms. The public is invited to come very close to Wols’s pictures, to peer into them and savour the details of their forms, the refined articulation of even the minutest mark.

During and after the Second World War Wols’s graphic work became increasingly abstract. Its difference from the crystalline and geometric end of the spectrum of abstraction, which is often identified with cosmological speculation, and informed much of kinetic art, could hardly be more marked. Wols’s creations are earthbound, biological, hairy and visceral, but they are no less a model of the universe. Tendencies in art which may have been mutually hostile at the time of their inception can now be seen to be two streams which converging in the desire to find a visual language which could encompass the hugely expanded conception of space and time that has come with the discoveries of modern science.

In its immediate context Wols’s work represents the turning of the Parisian surrealism of the 1930s towards the existentialism of the postwar years, towards l’art brut, l’art informel, and to artists like Fautrier, Dubuffet, Giacometti, and eventually Tinguely and Takis. A new conception of space is struggling to be born among those artists, which was in some ways foreseen in Wols’s works of the 1940s, where a gradual transformation takes place of a terrestrial into a cosmic space.

In 1945 the Parisian art dealer, René Drouin, proposed to Wols that he experiment with painting in oils on canvas. Drouin provided the necessary materials, encouraging Wols to work on a larger scale than he could achieve with watercolour on paper. Wols was philosophically and constitutionally against Drouin’s idea. Paintings in oil on canvas, he would say, “involve too much ambition and gymnastics. I am opposed to both.” Nevertheless, he began to produce oil paintings in 1947. It is as if Wols made paintings by attacking painting itself, an intensely individual position that artist Georges Mathieu at the time described as “shattering, disturbing and bloody.”

It is impossible to ignore the impression of ferocity that Wols’s oil paintings produce at their most audacious. Yet it was not through a simplistic ‘attack’ that Wols achieved this intensity since in these oil paintings passages of uncouth daubing alternate with passages of great delicacy.

Taking into account the contingencies that have helped shape it at distinct moments, and its abiding concerns and sensibilities, Wols’s work can be seen as a continuous play between abstraction and figuration. One of its special features is that it encompasses both photography and painting. In one sense, and allowing for the different technical procedures, the degree of abstraction in the ‘figurative’ photographs just about equals the degree of figuration in the ‘abstract’ drawings, watercolours and etchings. They take part in one another while remaining distinct. A fluid area is created, an area of transition conceived as something vast and tiny at the same time. It is in the creation of this uncertain, ‘unnamable’ but energized space that the insight and wit of Wols’s work really lies.”

Press release from the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía website

 

Installation views of the exhibition 'Wols: Cosmos and Street' at the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid 2014

Installation views of the exhibition 'Wols: Cosmos and Street' at the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid 2014

Installation views of the exhibition 'Wols: Cosmos and Street' at the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid 2014

Installation views of the exhibition 'Wols: Cosmos and Street' at the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid 2014

 

Installation views of the exhibition Wols: Cosmos and Street at the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid 2014

 

Wols. 'Untitled (Green Composition)' c. 1942

 

Wols
Untitled (Green Composition)

c. 1942
Pen and ink, watercolor, white zinc and scraping on paper
23.3 x 27 cm
Karin and Uwe Hollweg Stiftung, Bremen

 

Wols. 'Composition' 1941-1942

 

Wols
Composition
1941-1942
Pen, colored ink on paper
20 x 12.8 cm
The Menil Collection, Houston

 

Wols. 'Slice of liver-cello' c. 1944

 

Wols
Slice of liver-cello
c. 1944
Pen and ink, watercolor and zinc white
18.3 x 13.2 cm
Private collection

 

Wols. 'Untitle'; also known as 'It's All Over The City' 1946-47

 

Wols
Untitled; also known as It’s All Over The City
1946-47
Oil on canvas
81 x 81 cm
The Menil Collection, Houston

 

Wols. 'The bird' 1949

 

Wols
The bird
1949
Oil on canvas
92.1 x 65.1 cm
The Menil Collection, Houston

 

Wols. 'Untitled' 1946-47

 

Wols
Untitled
1946-47
Oil on canvas

 

 

Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía
Sabatini Building
Santa Isabel, 52
Nouvel Building
Ronda de Atocha (with plaza del Emperador Carlos V)
28012 Madrid
T: (34) 91 774 10 00

Opening hours:
Monday to Saturday and bank holidays from 10.00 am – 9.00 pm
Sundays from 10.00 a.m. to 2.15 p.m complete Museum visit, from 2.15 to 7.00 pm
Closed Tuesdays

Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía website

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His art work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes Art Blart, a photographic archive and form of cultural memory, which posts mainly photography exhibitions from around the world. He holds a Dr of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne, a Master of Arts (Fine Art Photography) from RMIT University, and a Master of Art Curatorship from the University of Melbourne.

Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: ‘Dogs, chickens, cattle’ 1994-95

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