Art and Archaeology Exhibitions
You are in:  Home > Art > Exhibitions   •  Archives   •  send page to a friend

Headline Feed
Email to a friend




By Lukas Amacher

BASEL, SWITZERLAND, 28 SEPTEMBER 2009 — When one of the most influential Swiss art collectors of the 20th century stages a summer exhibition about the man whose face is on the Swiss one hundred franc note, you know that you are going to get an exhibition worth the twenty-dollar price of admission. In fact what we got were too many extraordinary artworks and far too many tourists.

It is always suspect to find that most of the visitors to a place usually as quiet and academic as the museum of the Beyeler Foundation outside Basel trample through with audio guides and exhibition literature. They typically position themselves in front of those exhibits that carry the audio guide symbol (meaning "Please stop here") and offer an inquisitive gaze while punching in the appropriate number. After a few appreciative looks and with perhaps big question marks on their foreheads, they may offer opinions such as "Genius!" or, perhaps more honestly, "Now I understand!"  These collective brain exertions can make blockbuster exhibitions like the Alberto Giacometti retrospective at the Beyeler as much of an opportunity for sociological observations as a chance to appreciate art.

Alberto Giacometti: Le chien (The Dog), 1951
Bronze, 46 x 98,5 x 15 cm
Alberto Giacometti-Stiftung, Zurich
© FAAG/ 2009, ProLitteris, Zurich
Photo: Jean-Jacques Nobs, Basel
Photo courtesy of Beyeler Foundation

The exhibition includes more than one hundred major works from every phase of Giacometti’s career, arranged in an interesting progression that is not completely chronological. The curator, Ulf Küster, has done a nice job with the paintings, but the sculpture suffers from a labored juxtaposition of large and small (mirroring the permanent collection’s deliberate mixture of Western and tribal art) that seems a bit out of balance at times. The large seem to suffocate the small, and when you add to that the crush of the crowd, we can all start to feel just a bit smothered by art rather than embraced by it.

Alberto Giacometti: Homme qui marche sous la pluie, (Man Walking in the Rain), 1948
Bronze, painted, 47 x 77.6 x 15.9 cm
Fondation Beyeler, Riehen / Basel
Foto: Robert Bayer, Basel
© FAAG/ 2009, ProLitteris, Zurich

Photo courtesy of Beyeler Foundation

The two biggest rooms are crammed with sculptures. Even without the many visitors, I would have had problems in viewing each sculpture by itself without being distracted by the others. Together, the rooms resemble a warehouse, albeit one with a plan. The concept of less is more would have been appropriate.

Quite different in feel was room 12, where Petit homme sur socle (Small man on a Base, 1940/41) was on view. A small figure of only one inch in height, positioned on a bronze base fifty times its size, it paradoxically dominated the room. It showed beautifully how monumentality does not have much to do with size.

Alberto Giacometti: Grand nu, (Tall Nude), 1962
Oil on canvas, 174.5 x 69.5 cm
Staatsgalerie Stuttgart
Sammlung Steegmann
© FAAG/ 2009, ProLitteris, Zurich
Photo courtesy of Beleyer Foundation

The following room, devoted to paintings and drawings, appeared to hold something sacred. The main lights were dimmed, seemingly in deference. Carefully arranged cones of light, resembling halos, illuminated the works. Giacometti assembled both his paintings and drawings from short but always visible lines that seem confusing at first glance. Take just a bit of time with his two-dimensional works, however, and they become very clear and precise. The analogies between Giacometti’s works on canvas and paper and the bronze sculptures then become apparent. All have a very delicate quality despite, in the case of the bronzes, having been built of very heavy material. Indeed, the slender motifs of the sculptures perfectly harmonize with the line-biased pictorial oeuvre. The play with proportion that becomes evident with the bronze Grande tête de Diego (Big Head of Diego, 1954) is already found, though more subtly, in the portrait of the artist’s mother created four years earlier.

Alberto Giacometti: Grande tête de Diego (Large Head of Diego) 1954
Bronze, 65 x 39,5 x 24,5 cm
Alberto Giacometti-Stiftung, Zurich
© FAAG/ 2009, ProLitteris, Zurich
Photo courtesy of Beyeler Foundation

The true highlight of the show is actually in the foyer. Nine female sculptures by Giacometti are positioned as if in league against a turquoise-brown painting of epic size and three sculptures by Barnett Newman. The resulting play of color, as well as the unquestionable affinity of the abstraction of the sculptures, is without doubt a spectacular and farsighted curatorial accomplishment.

Title image above: Alberto Giacometti: Self-Portrait, 1921
Oil on canvas, 82,5 x 70 cm
Alberto Giacometti-Stiftung, Zurich
© FAAG/ 2009, ProLitteris, Zurich

Photo courtesy of Beyeler Foundation 

Through 11 October 2009
Fondation Beyeler
Baselstrasse 101
4125 Riehen, Switzerland
Tel: (41) 61 645 97 00

A native of Zurich, Lukas Amacher is a young collector, art critic andfounder of the pictorial art blog


BOOK TIP: All titles are chosen by the editors as being of interest to
Culturekiosque readers.  

Alberto Giacometti: Space, Figure, Time
By Ulf Küster

Hardcover: 96 pages, 39 illustrations, 19 in colour
Hatje Cantz Verlag: Art to Read series
Ostfildern, Germany, December 2009
ISBN-10: 3775723730
ISBN-13: 978-3775723732

Author and curator Ulf Küster's succint, insightful and eminently readable text presents the defining (albeit complex) themes, influences and concepts of Alberto Giacometti's oeuvre: the archaeology and aesthetics of his family constellation in Switzerland's Italian-speaking Val Bregaglia; emotion and "the phenomenology of perception"; desire and sexual violence; African art-influenced surrealism; fear, anxiety and the existential condition; the Paris art scene before and after World War II; "la réalité stable"; and the depiction of movement, time and space.

Sculptural group for Chase Manhattan Plaza, New York
[Standing Woman III amd IV, Monumental Head, Walking Man II
], 1960
Fondation Beyeler, Riehen / Basel
Photo: Robert Bayer, Basel
© Hatje Cantz Verlag
Photo courtesy of Hatje Cantz Verlag

Handsomely printed, bound and illustrated — and thus e-reader resistant — this slim volume is a useful and thought-provoking guide to Giacometti's
life and art, as well as an attractive addition to Hatje Cantz Verlag's Art to

Joseph Romero 

Related Culturekiosque Archives

Alberto Giacometti: Die neuen Räume (The New Rooms)

Egyptian Art in the Age of the Pyramids

Einstein’s Views on God and Religion Set Auction Record

Magical Faces of Africa

Magic: Power Objects of the Peoples and Kings of Africa

When Modern Was New

Francis Bacon: A Centenary Retrospective

Miles Davis And The Golden Age of Parisian Jazz

Wartime Wagner, Post-war Weber, Weimar Weill and the Inimitable Richard Strauss

[ Feedback | Home ]

If you value this page, please send it to a friend.


Copyright © 2009 Euromedia Group, Ltd. All Rights Reserved.