Giacometti surreal

Broken soul and wounded body: inside the Tower of Babel.

'I see a lot of modern [in Paris], but it's a bit like the Tower of Babel, there are so many different things going in all kinds of directions, it's hard to get a clear overall picture.'

This was how Alberto Giacometti, in a letter to his parents in 1925, described his encounter with the various artistic styles he found when he arrived in the art city of Paris.

And so the artist initially embraced the language of Cubism. Giacometti broke down plaster blocks into smaller geometric parts and then assembled them into new compositions. He also proceeded similarly with the human body:

Spoon Woman (1926/1927) by Alberto GiacomettiKunsthaus Zürich

Spoon Woman, 1926/27

The 'Spoon Woman' is a major work of the 1925/27 group of works inspired by African and other indigenous art.

The rich spoon shape is reminiscent of primitive fertility idols.

The female figure half curves towards the viewer, half withdraws, opening up, thus creating an enigmatic tension.

Here some type of metamorphosis takes place, the body of the woman is transformed into an object – or, on the contrary, an object becomes animate?

Reclining Woman Who Dreams (1929) by Alberto GiacomettiKunsthaus Zürich

Reclining Woman Who Dreams, 1929

The body of the sleeper is lifted and lowered like a wave in the dream plane.

Do body and nature coincide into one picture here? The rays that pierce the waves thus also affect the sleeping body.

The sculpture translates the theme of cubist composition into the formation of space: instead of immersing the signs in a surface, he lets them float freely in transparent space.

Through the enigmatic and metamorphose, Giacometti approached the universe of the Surrealists. From 1930 to 1934 he belonged to the circle around André Breton and, as the most significant sculptor of the group, created a number of fascinating foam models of psychic impulses.

Disagreeable Object (1931) by Alberto GiacomettiKunsthaus Zürich

Disagreeable Object, 1931

The Surrealists aimed to overcome the distance between art and life: The objects of fantasy were to enter directly into everyday life and reveal its fantastic character.

As a result, Giacometti demonstratively omits the pedestal for this 'disagreeable object'.

Project for a Passageway (Maquette) (1930/1931) by Alberto GiacomettiKunsthaus Zürich

Project for a Passageway (Maquette), 1930/31

From the side, the arched curves of the object look like adobe buildings or huts. Giacometti, who was interested in the culture of sub-Saharan Africa, created a miniature 'African village' here.

The artist envisioned the work as a project for a walk-in architecture: the viewer can imagine walking through this mysterious corridor.

Viewing the sculpture as an organic entity from above, it can be interpreted as a reclining woman lying on the ground.

Is the figure helpless? Is it a depiction of rape? Through the foreign body in the form of a long, thin pole, we observe some kind of penetration that splits the area above into two parts.

Flower in Danger (1932) by Alberto GiacomettiKunsthaus Zürich

Flower in Danger, 1932

The ominous also appears in this work: The flower – or is it a head? – dangles from a gallows.

Next to it, the catapult's sling rope is so drawn that it could come loose at any moment and violently strike the flower.

Exploring the unconscious and the ominous was a major focus of the Surrealist movement. Many of the Surrealists had experienced World War I and had been confronted with the psychological and physical wounds of the massacre. The broken soul and the wounded body became two core Surrealist motifs.

Caught Hand (1932) by Alberto GiacomettiKunsthaus Zürich

Caught Hand, 1932

The title of this work already sets the scene: 'La Main est prise', the hand is caught.

The proximity of the hand to the metal wheels and sharp belts suggests an imminent danger to the fingers should the transmission start to move.

In this work, Giacometti possibly processed the traumatic memory of an accident from his brother Diego's childhood. The five-year-old boy reached into the gears of a chopping machine and lost several phalanges of his right hand.

Later it turned out that Diego was driven by an inexplicable desire to reach out his hand.

Point to the Eye (1932) by Alberto GiacomettiKunsthaus Zürich

Point to the Eye, 1932 

'Point to the Eye' illustrates the psychological tension in the confrontation of seeing and attacking.

There is an ambiguous relationship between the two elements of the sculpture: although the spike threatens the eye, conversely the flashing gaze of the skull can also be a sign of aggression.

The French title 'La Pointe à l'œil' also hints at the expression 'se mettre le doigt dans l'œil' (in English 'to put ones finger into the eye', meaning to err or to deceive oneself).

The death of his father in June 1933 affected the artist deeply, and he began to work increasingly figuratively. This development led to his exclusion from the Surrealist group in February 1935.

Giacometti's simple objects from his surrealist creative phase evoke strange poetic associations or memories to this day and are difficult to forget.

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