The Decaying Corpses of Alberto Giacometti

The Bechtler Museum of Modern Art hosted two shows worth of art by Antoni Tapies and the Giacometti family.

I have mixed feelings about Antoni Tapies.  The wall writings compare him to Joan Miro, but I disagree.  What made Miro so appealing (to me at least) came from the diverse use of color found in his art.  Tapies’ work makes me think of doodlings and stains similar to the ones I inadvertently left on paper used to cover tables back when I made art during my high school years.  However, that does not mean that I dislike his other work.  His series Album St. Gallen felt very faithful to the Surrealist ideology and I did admire the snail drawing in the series.  Having seen his other work in the documentary I embedded in this blog post shows that he has a lot of good work beyond what the Bechtler exhibited.
His drawings from the Air Series work better in the original books next to the poetry as their illustrated companion.

Read Giacometti’s profile via the Tate

The highest floor showcased the Giacometti Family with output by Bruno, Alberto, Giovanni, and Diego displayed next to each other.  Prints, paintings, furniture, they did everything.  While Alberto had the most familiar name, other relations created work themselves.  Diego made furniture, Bruno did architectural sketches, and Giovanni did painting.  On Alberto, the Bechtler did not have his famous large and emaciated sculpture, only his drawings, paintings, sketches, furniture, and figurines.  The opposite of imposing, Alberto’s figurines could fit in the palm of your hand.  Another contrast came from the Swiss artist appropriating styles from the Classical eras.  One obvious example came from one diminutive piece simply titled Sphinx (1935-1940).  More examples of the ancient influence came from a tiny statuette called Female Dancing Figure (1937).  Making the figure with a rough and unpolished execution, Alberto gives the woman’s chiton this illusion of movement.  According to the text boxes, Giacometti’s art took inspiration from “African, Oceanic, and Cycladic” cultures.  The text in called them “exotic” which in my opinion, reinforced the “mysterious culture” stereotype.  Despite that little problem, I enjoyed his sculpture.  Besides Sphinx and Female Dancing Figure, my favorite sculptures came from the 1962 series of his companion Annette.  I saw drawings of Alberto’s that reminded me of other artists.  The Series of Annette Seated called back to Edvard Munch’s The Scream and Francis Bacon with its lines and open mouth and seated position.

As I observed the drawings with its thin lines, I noticed all Alberto’s subjects and objects appeared as though he caught them in the middle of aging or decomposing.  With ink, he morphed his parents into figures of decay.  Portrait of Mother turned the woman into a corpse and The Artist’s Father Reading the Newspaper gave the father’s head this skull-like visage.  Alberto did the same thing to the famous people he knew.  He gave harsh lines to his portrait of Marie-Laure de Noailles (1946) and the Bust of Yanaihara also resembled a skull.  The swirling lines create this sunken look.  Even his still life drawings looked nasty.  The artwork Four Apples on Table had this grey color that resembled mold.  When his subjects did not resemble corpses, he turned them into apparitions.  The innocuous drawing Diego with the Dog (1920) carried this air of melancholy.  Walking Man Face on Recto (1951) and Silhouette in Space (1957) both have this ghostly atmosphere.  I guess when an artist applies lines, the subject could end up looking haggard and aged.  When I studied art during my high school years, I drew a portrait of my teacher.  When I showed her the completed version, she jokingly said, “You made me look old.”

I consider that last paragraph just interpretations, not fact.  Since I have not done an in-depth study into Alberto’s work, so I do not know if Alberto intended to have death as a constant theme in his work.

The corpse look did not dominate Alberto’s entire body of work.  Mother Sewing (1914) has these soft pencil shades that create this sense of life.  He gave a cherubic element to his brother with his portrait Bruno Giacometti (1916) via thick oil paint. Alberto continued to dabble in Classical themes in Actaeon Changed into a Stag (1921).  Quite possibly the brightest painting found in the exhibition.  Lastly, Alberto made furniture such as table lamps and wall sconces.

By the time I have this published, the show has come and gone, but the Bechtler will still have some work by the Giacometti family around.

ETA: Rewrote a sentence.

ETA 4-29-2015: Added a word and removed a border.

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