The first ever exhibition dedicated to Alberto Giacometti's portraits is to open at the National Portrait Gallery this autumn. This was announced today just hours after a sculpture of the Swiss artist sold for millions of dollars at an auction in New York, making him the world's most highly prized modern sculptor.
Giacometti: Pure Presence (15 October 2015 – 10 January 2016) marks the fiftieth anniversary of the artist's death. More than 60 works, including paintings, sculptures and drawings, from the entire range of his career will be exhibited.
The show will include rare loans from private collections and seldom-seen portraits, and will be the first to focus on the lesser-known double life of the Swiss twentieth century artist.
Most famous for his tall, thin, standing or walking figures, Giacometti (1901 – 1966) is widely known as a leading modernist and surrealist sculptor working alongside Picasso, Miró and Ernst in Paris in the 1920s. Acknowledging the experimental and imaginative nature of his work, he claimed that, starting in 1925, for ten years ‘it was necessary to abandon the real'.
But the Gallery's exhibition emphasises the portraits produced by the sculptor during this time as he steered a lesser-known, parallel artistic course at his family home in Switzerland. Beyond that, and covering the period 1914 to 1966, the exhibition reveals his life-long preoccupation with portraiture and ‘copying appearance'.
Pure Presence will focus on the intensity of his relationships with frequent sitters such as members of his close family; Isabel Nichol (who later became Francis Bacon's muse Isabel Rawsthorne); and the prostitute Caroline, whom he met in 1960 and who sat for his portraits over the following five years.
Portraits of all his main models will be displayed, including his wife Annette and his brother Diego, as well as such friends as the writers Louis Aragon and Jean Genet, the retailer and philanthropist Lord Sainsbury and the art writer James Lord. There will alsobe a room of photographs documenting the artist's life.
Highlights include his earliest portrait bust of his brother Diego created in 1914 when he was just 13 and his last bronze busts from 1965. These are displayed alongside an astonishing range of paintings and drawings which show Giacometti's development from post-impressionist influences via cubism to expressionist portraits of figures in highly charged spaces, reminiscent of the ‘caged' compositions of Francis Bacon.
One of the artist's most celebrated tall hieratic figures Woman of Venice VIII, stands at the centre of the exhibition, making a vital contact between Giacometti's portraits and his famous sculptures evoking an anonymous human presence.
This is the first large-scale Giacometti exhibition to be held in the United Kingdom since those at the Tate in 1965 and at the Royal Academy in 1996. The title of the exhibition derives from the existentialist writer Jean-Paul Sartre, who referred to Giacometti's endeavour to give ‘sensible expression' to ‘pure presence'.
Curator Paul Moorhouse said,
Giacometti is widely celebrated as one of the giants of modern art, but his almost continuous involvement with portraiture is less well known. In devoting individual rooms to his main models, the exhibition exposes the singular, obsessive and intense nature of Giacometti's portraits. Repetition, variation, accretion and dissolution are revealed as vital elements in his extraordinary vision.
GIACOMETTI: PURE PRESENCE
15 October 2015 – 10 January 2016, at the National Portrait Gallery, London www.npg.org.uk
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Graham Spicer is a writer, director and photographer in Milan, blogging (under the name ‘Gramilano') about dance, opera, music and photography for people “who are a bit like me and like some of the things I like”. He was a regular columnist for Opera Now magazine and wrote for the BBC until transferring to Italy.
His scribblings have appeared in various publications from Woman's Weekly to Gay Times, and he wrote the ‘Danza in Italia' column for Dancing Times magazine.