Giacometti, on view at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York City, June 8 through September 12, 2018
Writing on the occasion of Alberto Giacometti’s death in 1966, critic John Berger remarked that if the Swiss-born sculptor had lived in an earlier period, he would have been a religious artist. Indeed Giacometti, best known for his tall, skinny bronze renderings of human figures and now the subject of a major retrospective at the Guggenheim Museum in New York, shares with the Renaissance a fascination with perspective and a passion for painting and sculpture as tools for understanding the world. Berger’s observation also implies something about the artist’s temperament. Though a non-believer, Giacometti confronted the existential dilemmas of the 20th century—the loss of meaning caused by fading religious certainties, the devastation of two world wars, the social alienation generated by rising consumerism—with the quiet stability and determination of a monk. He didn’t chant the psalms, but Giacometti, now dark and brooding, now exuberant with praise, approached art (and life) with the same fervor and tenacity as the psalmist.
Comprised of nearly two hundred sculptures, paintings, and drawings, Giacometti aims to introduce a new generation of museum-goers to the modernist master’s life and work. Beginning by tracing Giacometti’s early aesthetic influences (the ancient totems of Africa, Oceania, and the Cyclades, but also the avant-garde cubism and surrealism of Picasso and Brancusi), the exhibit then unfolds in loose chronological order, with works rhythmically arranged in thematic clusters. As they flow by we experience three intertwined moments of Giacometti’s artistic development: the playful anxiety of his surrealist phase in the 1920s and ’30s, the kinetic frenzy of the postwar years (when he was excited by cities, motion, and existentialism), and the tender serenity of the late 1950s and early ’60s, when he trained his attention on the mystery of the human face.