Giacometti: Pure Presence.  The National Portrait Gallery

(15 October 2015 – 10 January 2016)

Giacometti is considered one of the preeminent artists of the 20th Century.  The Swiss-Italian artist was a sculptor, painter, draughtsman and printmaker.  This exhibition is the first retrospective on his portraiture. 

The Exhibition:

The exhibition is comprised of 6 rooms: on entry to the exhibition there is a long narrow room focusing on his early work from childhood.  There are portraits of family members.  The next two adjoining rooms are a continuation of his early work. 

One room in particular has 4 portraits of his mother at different times in his career.  That one room is dedicated to images of his mother emphasises her importance and influence throughout his life.  He would die 2 years after her.

What is evident in the early works is the experimentalism with the abstract.  This was best summed up in a bronze of the artist’s father:

‘The Artist’s Father’ Bronze, 1927

It is flat and engraved.  While closely copying his father’s features, he also progressively abstracted his face.  I think that this artwork marks the start of his ‘abandoning the real’. 

He would spend the next 9 years exploring the abstract and imaginative; gravitating towards the Surreal.

In a room entitled ‘Pure Presence’ stands one of his characteristic elongated figures.  This is entitled ‘Woman in Venice VIII’, Bronze, 1956

This depicts a tall and anonymous figure and would comprise 1 or 10 related sculptures that would be exhibited at the 1956 Venice Biennale.  This leads onto a large room with photographs and film footage.

The contrast in the work in the following rooms is strikingly different.  I think the style is markedly more abstract with sitters other than family members emphasising the change.  There follows a further 4 rooms.

A room entitled ‘Annette’ comprises 8 images.  The next ‘The Image of Man’ is particularly interesting in that it comprises work from a one man show in New York in 1948.  The exhibition was accompanied by an essay by Satre: ‘The Quest for the Absolute’ that linked Giacometti’s works with existentialist ideas; in particular the figure in space.

Next is a room entitled ‘Caroline’ with paintings and busts of his last model.  Notice the sitter’s eyes: ‘for Giacometti, the imitation of life in the sitter’s eye’s animated the whole, and for that reason became his quarry’.

The final room is a finale to Giacometti’s career.  There is a list of the awards bestowed on him and the last portraits depiecting Annette, Caroline and other notable sitters.  The portraits are raw and unfinished, they capture the artist’s attempts of capture a fleeting moment emphasising his continued struggle:

‘Sometimes I think I can catch an appearance, then I lose it and so I have to start all over again’.