White, for Alberto Giacometti, is presented as something of an etheric form, the color of death or absence playing on is interrelation with temporal action. Space is generated only from the presence of space, and not from its reciprocal orientation. His practice is disposed towards the ideal void, where reality, untouched, is always waiting to be discovered. Giacometti’s opposition to easily read concepts of reality lies in his belief that merely representing figures alone, leaving behind the density and materiality of their surroundings and ignoring the distance between himself and the object of his perception, offered an incomplete picture of the truth. Giacometti’s eye was profoundly sensitive to different kinds of empty, negative space. He wanted to give form to space, opening his figure from within to its presence or surroundings.
This body of work is currently the subject of a comprehensive exhibition at the Guggenheim Museum, curated by Megan Fontanella and co-organized by the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation and The Foundation Alberto and Annette Giacometti, featuring more than 175 sculptures, paintings and drawings by Alberto Giacometti. The first major museum presentation of the artist’s work in the United States in fifteen years, the show explores the artist’s embrace modernism in creating art after the agony of World War II.
One could perhaps read the myth of Alberto Giacometti as that of the vertical tomb, a cold, alienating womb that lifts upwards. His sculptures, independently from their dimensions, are colossal images of the dead, opposing those alive. Their colossal forms walk in a suspended, eternal immobility, held only by their own gravity and resigned to a destiny of impossibility. This sense of spatial and emotional equilibrium is echoed in the calmness of eternal beauty found in the statues of antiquity. True to form, Giacometti’s interest in early Cycladic figures speaks to his interest in early modes of figuration and presentation, and how these can serve as touchstones for more modern explorations of reality.
Giacometti’s sculptures are suspended between night and day, between darkness and the gloomy red of sunset, and the light of what is reflected in the birth of the day. His art is destined to belong to the world of the immemorial, of future dead, of those who walk into a future without presence, and it is our very destiny of death that brings them close to us. It is a place of darkness generated by opposing forces of supreme uncertainty.
In a similar way, the women in Giacometti’s work are presented in all of their contradictions and fraught interactions with the artist’s own life. Every sculpture seems to back away or return in a night that is so far and dense that it gets confused with death. Nevertheless, the woman in so many of his works always appears to be more distant than the space around her. The disagreement, the split, the separation is always painful, it is the one that is generated between the cozy cavity of the motherly womb and the infinite orthogonal space.
This formal jumping off point allows Giacometti to probe the past, making his figures stand in another alienated present. He uses a singular modality of working with sorrow. Neither dead or alive, nor sterile or generator, still, far like Celtic divinities, they have at their core a horizon which is extremely remote, they arrive with the urgency of reaching for us and overtaking us. The long march of the spiral takes you to Giacometti’s iconic figures. Men Walking, eternally towards completion, an image of an action without end, destined to have the dimension of the surface. His figures are immense in dimensions not so real but rather imaginative, like all of his sculptures in fact, their meaning is mythical.
The fine line that ties everything together is therefore space, the space that divides and separates, and circumscribes his figures like a cancer of humanity that devours everything that carries anguish with its divisibility. Having place, means having space, being intangible. Distance is the experience of intangibility, of what remains suspended, yet equally serves as the entry point for the artist’s sculptures, as delicate negotiations between his slender forms, and the space they create around them, create a void through which the viewer can explore the rest of the world.
The show closes September 12th.
— D. Fenicia
Giacometti at Guggenheim Museum [Exhibition Site]