Walking with Alberto Giacometti

When Alberto Giacometti joined the surrealists in 1931, something beautiful was born. Inspired by the ideas expressed in André Breton’s Surrealist manifesto, the Swiss sculptor began to think differently about his approach to art, not that he was ever unsure about his own ability. Confidence is something he had plenty of.
Imbued with this self-assurance, he quickly became one of the movement’s leading practitioners, seemingly at one with its philosophies, intrigued by everything it offered and moved by its ability to conjure up works unlike anything seen before.
“For many years I have executed only sculptures that have presented themselves to my mind entirely completed,” he said in 1933. “I have limited myself to reproducing them in space without changing anything, without asking myself what they could mean… The attempts to which I have sometimes given way, of conscious realisation of a picture or even a sculpture, have always failed.”
However, though Giacometti was endeared to the ideals of the movement, he couldn’t quite contain himself with its so-called scriptures. He needed a certain detachment, a freedom to venture in any direction he so chose.
If this meant returning to more figurative works, then so be it. He was expelled. No big deal, as Salvador Dali could testify, one’s work is what truly matters. As with religion, there isn’t an explicit needn’t be part of a regular congregation to practice one’s faith. It is enough to believe it.
His work became more expressive, as a new website of the artist’s work shows. He experimented widely; leaving behind a diverse collection of objects, though, while he was inclined to try out various approaches, his name usually conjures up one distinct style.
Giacometti’s elongated, thin, choppy and haunting sculptures remain a powerful exploration of the shoddy calamity of the human species, which, in the name of progress, has never quite got to grips with what it is meant to be doing.
Some of the figures appear vacant, but not wholly. There’s always a hint of a former life, but one that no longer has the ability to resurface. They’ve become wandering ghosts; a state of being that can be seen every day on busy streets all over the world.
He wasn’t totally without hope though: “The more you fail, the more you succeed. It is only when everything is lost and – instead of giving up – you go on, that you experience the momentary prospect of some slight progress. Suddenly you have the feeling – be it an illusion or not – that something new has opened up.”
Anyone with a passing interest in his art should head online. The Alberto and Annette Giacometti Foundation has put together a striking and comprehensive space that is engaging, easy to navigate and very informative.
“This new website is a reference point for Giacometti,” a foundation spokeswoman said. “It finally makes publicly available research conducted by the foundation team in the past nine years [in areas including] provenance, exhibition history and bibliography.”
The mention of provenance is important. Fakes abound, and the foundation is particularly sensitive to this, with a committee meeting five times a year to assess the market and ensure that every work associated with Giacometti is properly validated. Their efforts are commendable. Given how much he put into his work, a fake will always lack integrity. None can mimic the emotion that goes into making art.
Cadogan Tate has extensive experience in shipping fine art all over the world.