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Giacometti: from tradition to avant-garde

Hello, everyone!

Where are you right now?

Whatever you’re doing, let me make a suggestion: stop and get ready to dive with a triple back pike with a double twist.

That’s right, because what else could we call a kind of maneuver to do this sequence: St. John the Baptist – Rodin –Giacometti – Basquiat – Charles de Gaule (with seagull).

I had these wonderful impressions going to see the beautiful exhibition at the Musée Maillol in Paris, up until January 20, 2019: “Giacometti: entre tradition et avant-garde” (“From tradition to avant-garde”).

As the title suggests, the exhibition analyzes the artistic career of the great (Italian-) Swiss-born sculpture born into a family where genius made itself at home.

Alberto came to Paris at a tender age and made his debut as a student of Antoine Bourdelle at the Académie de la Grande Chaumière in Montparnasse, where he set up his fascinating atelier.

A contemporary of Aristide Maillol, Giacometti first followed in the footsteps of artists like Chaim Jacob Lipchitz, Henri Laurens, and Ossip Zadkine before following his own talent, which would lead him to create genuine icons of modern art.

But let’s get back to our backflip and go in order, taking the first three links in the chain: St. John the Baptist – Rodin – Giacometti.

Do you know who inspired Giacometti’s famed sculpture “L’homme qui marche”?

I didn’t until I found out in this one of the last rooms of this fabulous exhibition.

Alongside his ultra-famous sculpture, here there is a large bronze sculpture by August Rodin. Inside a glass case is a notebook with drawings (or really sketches) show a body in motion with a note under it written by Rodin that says “L’homme qui marche.” [Walking man].

The bronze sculpture depicts an original, dynamic figure that we realize only from the caption is St. John the Baptist.

The iconography is original as instead of being “clothed with camel hair,” as usual, a tiny leaf, possibly ivy, covers his loins.

So, that’s how I found out that Alberto Giacometti took inspired for his most famous sculpture by no less than Rodin himself!

This takes us to the fourth link in the chain.

We’ve seen how Rodin’s St. John the Baptist inspired Giacometti, but what does Jean-Michel Basquiat have to do with anything?

Well, look at this picture, and tell me that it doesn’t remind you in every way of the Afro-New-Yorker artist/graffiti writer.

How can we explain this?

Did Basquiat see these works?

Considering his biography, we would tend to think not. So?

There isn’t actually an explanation, but that’s nothing new. In the history of art, it is not uncommon to find two artists, who never met and never know about each other, who use a virtually identical figure, style, or motif.

Photographs showing artists in their private lives or when creating a work of art, always make a big impression, but this one by the famous photographer Robert Doisneau is especially fascinating.

In this oversized photo, in addition to Doisneau’s original style, usually known as less profound and more descriptive, is striking for the sad, almost desolate quality of Giacometti’s work space. It looks like a basement, like a cavern where a feeling of poverty and disorder reign.

We know that this wasn’t really the case, and Giacometti’s amused, surprised expression confirms, but the feeling is still there.

Another thought comes to mind looking at that picture. Raise your hand if you didn’t think about the value that many of these pieces have (or would have had), these sculptures scattered everything (seemingly) carelessly.

Who wouldn’t want to turn around one of those paintings to see what it is, which art work, and know where it is now?

Hanging in a museum somewhere? Or on a wall in a penthouse in Dubai? Packed in a safe at some free port? Forgotten in a basement of Paris’s 14th arrondissement?

I want to tell you what struck me most about the exhibition, something we could call “Omnia vincit amor.”

I find period videos shown in exhibitions always extremely useful for understanding an artist. And that certainly goes for the one shown here. There is, in particular, a scene at the end of it that I find very poignant.

In the video you see Alberto Giacometti making a sculpture, and giving an interview at the same time to Jacques Dupin, a poet, critic and friend of the artist.

In answering the rather technical questions, we can see that all he cares about is giving life to his creation. After the interview, he tends to his creation as if it were a child.

After pouring water on the sculpture’s head like a baptism, he takes a wet cloth and wraps it up with infinite love.

I assume he did this to prevent the clay or plaster from drying, but, regardless, this scene shows how important it is to do things with love.

I’ll leave you with this beautiful image. But, no, wait, there’s one last link in the chain: Charles de Gaulle (with seagull).

Walking home from the museum, down the Champs Elysées, I brought fresh eyes to a familiar statue that I had never paid attention to before.

I don’t know who made it, but there’s no question they saw Alberto Giacometti‘s sculpture “L’homme qui marche.”

Giacometti, entre tradition et avant-garde

Musée Maillol

61, Rue de Grenelle

75007 Paris

From September 14 to January 20, 2019

#fondationgiacometti #Paris #museemaillol #fondazionemaeght #albertogiacometti #lhommequimarche