Alberto Giacometti is most celebrated for his wraith-like, elongated figures, which crane forward like wind-blown trees, desiccated and frail. But before the Swiss artist developed his “transparent constructions” he found inspiration in a very different kind of art. Like Matisse and Picasso before him, Giacometti was influenced by Egyptian, Cycladic and Sumerian treasures from Africa, Mexico and Polynesia, and he regularly visited the Louvre to study primitive artworks. His resulting creations, hewn from wood or cast in plaster or bronze, are the subject of a new exhibitionat Luxembourg & Dayan in London until April 9.
Taking its cue from a letter Giacometti wrote to his New York dealer and friend Pierre Matisse in 1946, the exhibition focuses on a series of sculptures made between 1925 and 1934. This period of profound personal and stylistic crisis in Giacometti’s life led to the crystallisation of his signature style and the creation of what he once described as human “shadows”.
The pieces made in the 1920s – when the artist was in his 20s himself – were Giacometti’s most surreal, and included such masterpieces as the insect-like Femme égorgée (Woman with her throat cut). This London show includes Composition (Femme au bouclier) 1927 (pictured), featuring human figures cast as chunky geometric blocks, and Femme couchée(1929), which inverts symbols of fertility, so there’s an empty urn-like belly rather than a pregnant one – each sculpture uniting the rigour of Cubism and the boldness of African art.
In 1930, Giacometti’s career took off, following an exhibition with Miró and Arp organised by the premier Parisian art dealer of the interwar period, Pierre Loeb. “There are moments of what can be called crisis, which are the only ones that count in life,” read the first essay on his work – by Michel Leiris – “They are moments when what is going on outside seems to respond suddenly to the turbulence hurled out from within us, moments when the external world opens up and establishes a sudden communication with our heart… I love Giacometti’s sculpture because what he does simply is to petrify one of these crises.”
By the end of 1930, Giacometti’s crisis was over – both he and his sculptures were striding ahead.