Giacometti: Fragile art for fragile times

PUBLISHED: 07:00 10 October 2017

A sculpture by late Swiss artist Alberto Giacometti at the Schirn Kunsthalle in Frankfurt, Germany. Photo: Xinhua News Agency

A sculpture by late Swiss artist Alberto Giacometti at the Schirn Kunsthalle in Frankfurt, Germany. Photo: Xinhua News Agency

$image.copyright

There is more to Alberto Giacometti than his reputation as a troubled maverick, says JOANNE CRAWFORD.

The life and art of Alberto Giacometti have received plenty of attention in 2017. A major exhibition of his work was held at Tate Modern in London, and then came the release of Stanley Tucci’s biopic, Final Portrait, a film which focuses on the final year of the artist’s life.

Giacometti, who died in 1966 at the age of 64, has always been an important and influential figure within the history of mid-20th century art – despite the apparent focus on the big splashy canvases coming out of New York at the time by the likes of Jackson Pollock.

While art critics were declaring American painting as the zenith of modern art, Europe was also producing some amazing eccentric and eclectic work – particularly sculpture. The public resurfacing of Giacometti this year (as well as a recent exhibition of the British artist Kenneth Armitage) goes some way to finally redress the balance – and shows that Giacometti’s battered, elongated figures can still speak to an audience in the 21st century.

Giacometti, who was from Switzerland, is often depicted as a mercurial soul – socially and emotionally awkward, a man who endears and enrages in equal measure.

Back in 1948, the philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre wrote an essay entitled The Search for the Absolute, which revealed that the process of making art was so psychologically painful for Giacometti that he would take years to produce anything that didn’t (for him) fail. He would often destroy more than he sent out of the studio.

Sartre also writes about Giacometti’s strange use of space – the sense that however physically close you get to his sculptures, they always seem distant, unreachable. This is reinforced in the film Final Portrait where the main protagonist, exhausted by Giacometti’s demands on his time and patience, exclaims: “He is determined to remain completely unsatisfied.”

This is the Giacometti we know. And it now seems impossible to find any other version. But we all love a “tortured genius” when it comes to our artists – however reductive that is when searching for the contextual nuances which inspired their work.

The difficulty of understanding Giacometti is equally stressed when we encounter his sculptures. We are puzzled by his long, thin, angular figures, often grouped on oversized plinths. Huddled together, it seems, for protection – but always seeming strangely alone.

Their feet are usually set in large lumps of metal while their bodies are stretched towards the void of the heavens. This pulls the figures almost into insignificance. The body, as the home of the soul, becomes fragile, vulnerable, rather than solid and stable or known.

They were created at a time when the Second World War had recently ended, but its consequences, the Cold War and the threat of global nuclear annihilation, were a reality. The frailness of the body and community through warfare was brought into everyone’s daily psychological view.

Maybe Giacometti’s famous figures speak to us at a time of anxiety and doubt – when technology becomes the potential slayer, rather than the saviour, and the world becomes an uncertain place. The articulation of this uncertainty is, more often than not, the realm of the arts.

Artists look around them and gather the sociocultural resources available to present something that can be shared and understood among those who exist in the same world. Separate but together.



Aspects of Giacometti’s world that he attempted to represent, the fragmentary and fragile nature of human understanding in an ever-quickening world, can somehow connect to what we are experiencing now.

We are drawn to the often repeated idea that Giacometti was a troubled maverick who struggled with both his art and his relationships. That he was unruly and difficult. But it could also be true that we are drawn to Giacometti not just because of what he represents as an individual – but also because his work reflects our profound need to understand the world’s continuing potential for seismic and potentially catastrophic change.

  • Joanne Crawford is a lecturer in the history of art at the University of Leeds; this article also appears at www.theconversation.com

Support The New European's vital role as a voice for the 48%

The New European is proud of its journalism and we hope you are proud of it too. We believe our voice is important - both in representing the pro-EU perspective and also to help rebalance the right wing extremes of much of the UK national press. If you value what we are doing, you can help us by making a contribution to the cost of our journalism.

  • Become a friend of The New European for a contribution of £48. You will qualify for a mention in our newspaper (should you wish)
  • Become a partner of The New European for a contribution of £240. You will qualify for a mention in our newspaper (should you wish) and receive a New European Branded Pen and Notebook
  • Become a patron of The New European for a contribution of £480. You will qualify for a mention in our newspaper (should you wish) and receive a New European Branded Pen and Notebook and an A3 print of The New European front cover of your choice, signed by Editor Matt Kelly

By proceeding, you agree to the New Europeans supporters club Terms & Conditions which can be found here.



Supporter Options

Mention Me in The New European



If Yes, Name to appear in The New European



Latest Articles

Friday, October 20, 2017

Our editor-at-large on his new party piece: the speech the PM should have made to her party conference

Friday, October 20, 2017

The ‘missing billions’ are a red herring, says ANGELA JAMESON. There are bigger things to worry about

Friday, October 20, 2017

The Leave trajectory has run into the sand, says JANE MERRICK. Now it is not just a ‘no deal’ that is on the cards, it’s a ‘no Brexit’

Friday, October 20, 2017

The comedian, musician and writer on the disgraced Hollywood mogul

Friday, October 20, 2017

STEVE ANGLESEY rounds up the losers and losers (because there are no winners) of another crazy seven days on Planet Brexit

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Theresa May’s refusal to tell a radio phone-in show how she would vote in a new Brexit referendum was a new low for the Maybot. Her interrogator IAIN DALE recalls the moment he put the question to her, and his surprise at her failure to answer it

Thursday, October 19, 2017

RICHARD PORRITT on the week's big talking points

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Why ‘no deal’ doesn’t work as a negotiating tactic, says JONATHAN POWELL – the man who helped negotiate peace in Northern Ireland

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Brexit, and a careless attitude towards British influence in NATO, will consign the country to the margins and weaken the cornerstone of our defence, argues GEORGE ROBERTSON, the former NATO Secretary General

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

New Ukip leader Henry Bolton named the party's new 'shadow cabinet' today - and what a bunch they are

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Catalonians against self-rule came out in their thousands the weekend before last.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

It might seem quixotic, at a time when Spain looks like it is falling apart, but could the country’s future lie in a union with neighbour Portugal? DAVID BARKER investigates ‘Iberism’

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

ALEXANDRA HADDOW on the Nordic trendsetters who have style sussed

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

A second referendum that reverses Brexit would have a "positive" and "significant" impact on the UK economy, which is on track to be crippled by its EU divorce, an influential think tank claimed today.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Making money is no longer enough for firms, say ANGELA JAMESON

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

The question, in a quiet voice, came from a woman in the audience at the Henley Festival’s Brexit debate, in a quiet voice: “So what do I tell my children now? They planned to live and work for a time in Europe. What now?”

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Millions of families already struggling with soaring prices could end up being another £500 worse off if Britain crashes out of the European Union without a deal, according to a report.

Monday, October 16, 2017

A day of action across the UK saw thousands of people take to the streets to demand Brexit is stopped.

Friday, October 13, 2017

People have been asking me if I know Simon Brodkin, the character-comedian/prankster who interrupted the Prime Minister’s conference speech to hand her a mock redundancy notice.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Angela Merkel’s power has taken a blow in the wake of the German election. Here Tony Paterson reports from Berlin on the new shape of German politics.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Roland Garros had every intention of pursuing a career as a concert pianist. An air show outside Reims during the late summer of 1909 changed all that.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

The Chancellor has admitted no Brexit deal could leave planes grounded in March 2019.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

The Catalonian crisis has put Europe, as well as Spain, in jeopardy, says PAUL KNOTT.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

It’s not a stretch to say that the economics of digital advertising are to blame for disasters like Brexit and Trump.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Boris Johnson is desperate to get into Number 10 – but it seems the Prime Minister has other ideas.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

We’re living in the Age of Cool Dad, with politicians obsessed with burnishing their pop culture credentials, says SAMIRA AHMED.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Theresa May has claimed “the ball is in their court” in a statement to the House of Commons updating MPs on the Brexit negotiations. Brussels, however, disagree.

Monday, October 9, 2017

By attempting to quash the result before it was even known, Madrid has made the case for Catalan independence all but unanswerable.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Lawyers have told the Government that Article 50 is not binding and can be scrapped at any time before the March 2019 deadline, it has been claimed.

Monday, October 9, 2017

The deluded fantasies of Leavers must have been inspired by the big screen says Have I Got News For You writer NATHANIEL TAPLEY. Here, he brings you the most Brexity films of all time.

Monday, October 9, 2017

France might be home of its most famous race, but Italy is the country with cycling in its DNA. To find out why, Patrick Sawer makes a tearful pilgrimage to its shrine to the sport.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Trieste, the city which has survived centuries of seductive illusions.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

As ambitions go, Lee Humphries’ is an unusual, if lofty, one – to ascend the highest points of 100 different countries. As he crests the halfway mark in his quest, he explains all to Julian Shea.

Friday, October 6, 2017

PETER TRUDGILL traces the clockwork progress of the word ‘orange’ from southern India to northern Europe, and finds the odd detour.

Friday, October 6, 2017

JUSTIN REYNOLDS on the Thomas Mann novel which tried to make sense of the descent of Europe’s most cultured nation into Nazism.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

In the days before Stephen Paddock reignited America’s gun control debate by raining down rapid fire carnage on the Las Vegas strip, a familiar voice was again calling the shots inside Donald Trump’s head.

Friday, October 6, 2017

Ahead of the return to London of arguably his greatest work, Glengarry Glen Ross, Charlie Connelly considers the craft of polymath and playwright David Mamet.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

As with other such tragedies, the Las Vegas massacre quickly brought out the worst of the internet, says JONO READ.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

They have a new leader, but do they have a new purpose? RICHARD PORRITT went behind enemy lines at the UKIP conference and found a party on the brink.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Spain is facing an existential threat, says JASON WALSH, with the country’s fragile compromise – which has held since the end of Franco’s dictatorship – now in tatters.

Podcast

Trending

Newsletter Sign Up

Sign up to receive our regular email newsletter