OCA study visit to the Giacometti exhibition at the Sainsbury Centre

I knew of Giacometti’s “walking” sculptures but didn’t realise how proficient he was with drawing and painting. I also learnt how vital a role his brother played in his work.

The drawings of Paris life were interesting – it was well-planned that at the same time the Henri Cartier-Bresson exhibition of Paris Street scenes was displayed in another gallery at the Sainsbury Centre

The exhibition was set into three themes –

  • early life
  • work and influences on it
  • his influence on others

I found this an engaging concept and much more interesting than, say, a chronological survey of Giacometti’s work.

In the first room Giacometti’s skill as a painter and draughtsman came to the fore. There was a striking self-portrait in oils when he was a young man and an arresting selection of his drawings of Paris Street life.

The second gallery explored what was happening in the art world at the time Giacometti was working. One striking exhibit showed the influence of African and classical art on Giacometti. A display case had about 15 art Artefacts on display with the key on the side – however approximately 12 of these were art from other cultures whereas 3 were pieces by Giacometti himself. The gallery notes explained “he was particularly enchanted by the simple power of the art and culture of the Etruscans and the Cycladic islands, which for him presented a more profound sense of reality than could be found in any other representational form”. And “inspired by these works, and by Cubism, his process became one of radical reduction”. It was interesting to join the other students spotting the Giacometti work. I found this a very effective way of demonstrating the curator’s position on the influences of Giacometti. I found the gallery notes on his walking men sculpture motifs quite enlightening where they noted that they were “the embodiment of the isolation and anxiety associated with the existentialism of post-war Europe”.

The final gallery was also an effective display of the influence of Giacometti on others. Seeing his work alongside sculptors such as Elizabeth Frink and others brought home his influence. This influence wasn’t limited to just sculpture – the use of a “cage” device or motif was first explored by Giacometti before being exploited much further by Francis Bacon.