MILAN, Italy – Born in Borgonovo di Stampa in Switzerland in 1901, Alberto Giacometti became one of the most important sculptors of the 20th century.
Son of the post-impressionist painter Giovanni Giacometti, Alberto Giacometti soon showed his interest and talent for art. His father and the Swiss artist Cuno Amiet were two influential figures in his early training.
Giacometti studied painting at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris, and sculpture and drawing at the Ecole des Arts et Métiers in Geneva, from 1919 to 1920. In 1920-21 Giacometti went to Italy, where he appreciated the work of Giotto and Tintoretto. In 1922 he settled in Paris, where he became interested in Cubism and Primitivism. In the mid-1920s he opened a studio with his brother Diego, who worked as his assistant. During these years he tried many approaches.
In the late 1920s Giacometti was attracted to the Surrealists, a group he joined in 1931 and in which he remained until being expelled in 1935. Nevertheless, visionary themes kept recurring in his works, together with metaphorical objects and assemblages. His sculptures often recalled games and architectural models. In those years, Giacometti used the motif of the cage, which allowed him to define space.
Alberto Giacometti, “Standing Woman”, 1948 (cast 1949), Painted bronze, 65 3/8 x 6 1/2 x 13 1/2″, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, James Thrall Soby Bequest © 2015 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris
On show at “Soldier, Spectre, Shaman: The Figure and the Second World War” at The Museum of Modern Art in New York through Mar. 20, 2016
In the early 1930s Giacometti also produced functional objects such as lamps and vases, which were sold by avant-garde interior designer Jean-Michel Frank. In 1939, a couple from Argentina commissioned him to design tables, fireplaces and chandeliers, which were shown in Paris before being shipped to Buenos Aires.
Giacometti abandoned the Surrealism and abstraction in the late 1930s to return to the human figure and its representation in space. One issue that remained central during his career was the representation of the head and, in particular, of the eyes. During the 1930s he explored various directions, using as models his brother Diego, his friend and muse Isabel Rawsthorne, the model Rita Gueyfier and others.
During World War II, Giacometti was in Switzerland, where he conceived the idea of the slender figures, which represent his famous sculptures of the postwar period. In comparison to the imagination and playfulness of Surrealism, these works reflect the suffering and trauma of war, and the anxiety and alienation that followed in the postwar period.