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ART SEEN - Alberto Giacometti; Material & Vision

Mid Morning Mix// ART SEEN // Art & Culture // Dec. 13, 2016

Art Seen - a review by Uli Van Neyghem.

The beautiful exhibition of Giacometti's work currently on in Zurich's Kunsthaus shows more than 250 masterpieces of Switzerland’s most renowned artist of the 20th century (1901 - 1966), including 75 very rarely exhibited plaster works; precious because of their fragility.

It is an exhibition of plaster, clay,  plasticine, wood and bronze.

The plasters, many of which served as the basis for casts in bronze, are special because they show intense markings of the artist himself working on them by hand (including fingerprints), leaving traces by incising, cutting, scraping, or in some cases painting them. 

This is not the case when you look at the bronzes. With the exception of a few that he painted, Giacometti was not directly involved in their manufacture: they were cast by specialists in foundries (based on his plaster casts, naturally), while Alberto’s brother Diego normally took care of the surface patina.  

The exhibition covers 1000 sqm and the hall has been partitioned into smaller room units and platforms, resembling Giacometti’s famous Paris studio, the sculptures having been arranged and grouped in a way that the artist himself used to (based on paintings done by Giacometti and old photographs). Cut-outs and openings in walls open up interesting perspectives. 

The extensive exhibition starts with works of his youth in the canton Grisons, going back as far as his time in school and including paintings by his father Giovanni Giacometti, depicting the child Alberto and family life. It ends with the very last work before his death, left in his studio in clay and later cast in bronze by his brother Diego.

The visitor discovers works from the years of study in Paris in which his works are influenced by cubism and post-cubism, translating organic forms into geometric elements.

Another grouping of works covers Alberto Giacometti’s surrealistic phase, the objects and sculptures showing distinct echoes of the ongoing dialogue and relationship with other artists like Dali, Picasso or Mirò. Giacometti’s decision to work on figurative heads finally leads to a rupture with the surrealistic movement, from which he gets excluded.

The years of World War II influence Alberto Giacometti in many ways. Fleeing from Paris due to the impending invasion by the German troupes, he returns to Switzerland and is forced to stay there until the end of the war years. On his flight he passes a village which had recently been in the line of fire and Alberto has the traumatic experience of seeing a severed arm lying on his path. Years later Giacometti designs a sculpture, showing nothing but a single arm, this fragment becoming a simple but arresting symbol of the destructive horrors of war. During his years of ‘exile’ in his birth land, he starts to work a lot in miniature, in order to facilitate transport of his works, whenever he would be able to return to Paris. 

In the post-war years the silhouettes of his sculptures become more and more elongated and slim, bearing witness to the deprivation, loneliness, hunger and emotional hardships suffered by the surviving human beings. It is going to be this new visual language that will bring him international acclaim and success in the years to come. 

Where:         Kunsthaus Zurich

When:          Until January 15, 2017

Open:           Friday-Sunday and Tuesday 10:00 - 18:00

                     Wednesday and Thursday 10:00 - 20:00

                     Holiday openings:  24 & 26.12.16 and 01.01 & 02.01.17 : 10:00 - 18:00 (closed on December 25)

Fees:            CHF 22 (incl. audioguide)

                     free for under 16s.

Uli's Hot tips:

Lunch or dinner in the beautiful round historic pavillon of La Terrasse restaurant, overlooking the Limmat river, a cup of coffee and some sweet temptation in Café Schober, tucked away in the old town below the museum, or a famous grilled sausage at the Sternengrill in Bellevue, down by the lake.

Many communes in the region are able to hand out train tickets valid in all of Switzerland for a day at a very attractive reduced price. The quantity of tickets available differs from village to village (in some it might be only 1 ticket per day, so secure your tickets well ahead of time).

Tags: art, artist

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