Alberto Giacometti’s works are being brought together for the UK’s first major retrospective dedicated to the artist, best known for his distinctive, elongated figures.

Alberto Giacometti with his sculptures at the Venice Biennale.Alberto Giacometti with his sculptures at the Venice Biennale.

This summer, Tate Modern pre­sents the UK’s first major retrospective of Alberto Giacometti (1901-1966) for 20 years. Celebrated as a sculptor, painter and draughtsman, Giacometti’s distinctive elongated figures are some of the most instantly recognisable works of modern art.

The exhibition will reassert Giacometti’s place alongside the likes of Matisse, Picasso and Degas as one of the great painter-sculptors of the 20th century.

Through unparalleled access to the extraordinary collection and archive of the Fondation Alberto et Annette Giacometti, Paris, Tate Modern’s ambitious and wide-ranging exhibition will bring together over 250 works. It will include rarely seen plasters and drawings that have never been exhibited before, and will showcase the full evolution of Giacometti’s career across five decades, from early works such as Head of a Woman [Flora Mayo], from 1926, to iconic bronze sculptures such as Walking Man, from 1960.

Born in Switzerland in 1901, Giacometti moved to Paris in the 1920s, where he became engaged with cubism and latterly joined the Surreal­ist Group in 1931. Celebrated works such as Woman with her Throat Cut (1932) will reveal Giacometti’s engagement with surrealism as well as his powerful explorations of brutality and sadism. A wide range of the artist’s large-scale sculptures will also be showcased alongside his drawings and books.

The HandThe Hand

Other works like Untitled (mask) (1934) will demonstrate his engagement with the decorative arts, while Man (Apollo) (1929) and The Chariot (1950), will show his preoccupation with Egyptian and African art.

Head of WomanHead of Woman

The exhibition will reveal how Giacometti, perhaps more than any other artist of his day, fused the ancient and the modern and broke down barriers between the decorative and the fine arts.

Giacometti left Paris in 1941, relocating to Geneva until the end of World War II. Having moved away from surrealism, he became interested in scale and perspective and began to work on much smaller sculptures in a more realistic style, as in Very Small Figurine, circa 1937-9. Following the war and his return to Paris, Giacometti began creating the elongated figures for which he is best known.

Working from life, his preoccupation with the alienated and isolated figure became an important motif, embodying the post-war climate of existential despair. The exhibition will include an astounding selection of such masterpieces, including Man Pointing (1947), Falling Man (1950) and The Hand (1947), as well as many of Giacometti’s major paintings like Diego Seated (1948) and Caroline in a Red Dress (circa 1964-5).

While Giacometti is best known for his bronze figures, Tate Modern will reposition him as an artist with a far wider interest in materials and textures, especially plaster and clay. The elasticity and malleability of these media allowed him to work in an inventive way, continuously reworking and experimenting with plaster to create his distinctive highly textured and scratched surfaces.

A large number of these fragile plaster works, which rarely travel, will be seen for the first time in this exhibition, including Giacometti’s celebrated Women of Venice (1956), created for the Venice Biennale.

Woman of VeniceWoman of Venice

The celebrated group of plaster sculptures  for Tate Modern’s major Giacometti retrospective will be shown alongside two further plaster sculptures from this series, which Giacometti unveiled at the Kunsthalle Berne that same year. The works have been specially restored and reassembled for Tate Modern’s exhibition by the Fondation Alberto et Annette Giacometti, Paris, and the exhibition offers a once in the lifetime opportunity to see this important group of fragile works as the artist originally intended.

Giacometti was chosen to represent France at the 1956 Venice Biennale,  where he showed a group of newly-made plaster sculptures for the exhibition, all of which depict an elongated standing female nude. These works represent a crucial stage in Giacometti’s artistic development and were the result of the study of his wife Annette, one of his most important models. The sculptures can be seen as a culmination of the artist’s lifelong experimentations to depict the reality of the human form.

The exhibition will also explore some of the key figures in the artist’s life who were vital to his work, including his wife, his brother Diego and his late mistress Caroline.

Giacometti’s personal relationships were an enduring influence throughout his career and he continuously used friends and family as models.

One room in the exhibition will be specifically dedicated to portraits of Diego and Annette demonstrating Giacometti’s intensely observed images of the human face and figure.

Alberto Giacometti runs between May 10 and October 10 at the Tate Modern, London, UK.

The HandThe Hand


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