The elongated “stick-figure” sculptures produced by Alberto Giacometti epitomise portrayals of loneliness and alienation in the modern world and are essential components of any large-scale examination of the artist’s work. However, negotiating their loan for exhibition is a financial and organisational nightmare: their fragility makes collectors exceedingly wary of parting with them and when loans have been secured, the price of crating and transporting them securely is extremely high.
The difficulties involved in bringing these works to Britain from mainland Europe where most of them are dispersed in private collections, has contributed to there being no major Giacometti retrospective in this country since the Tate’s 1965 exhibition.
The Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art’s success in assembling ninety sculptures, including most of Giacometti’s large-scale works, as part of its major retrospective opening this month (1 June-22 September) is significant.
A further difficulty is the necessity of securing support from the Giacometti Foundation in Zurich which houses the world’s most important collection of works by the artist—including about seventy sculptures, twenty paintings, and sixty drawings—in three venues: the Kunsthaus, Zurich, the Kunstmuseum, Basel and the Kunstmuseum, Wintherthur.
The foundation supports Giacometti retrospectives about once every five or six years, and there are dozens of venues around the world competing for its support which is essential before attempting to organise a show. The Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art successfully requested the foundation’s help in 1992 and around thirty-five of the 240 works on display are on loan from the foundation.
The full-scale retrospective, originally seen at the Kunsthalle, Vienna from 24 February to 5 May of this year, will familiarise British audiences with a lesser known aspect of Giacometti’s work by incorporating forty of the artist’s paintings and one hundred of his drawings.
“He is just as great a painter and draughtsman as he is a sculptor” comments Dr Patrick Elliot of the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art who has organised the show in conjunction with Dr Toni Stoos, former Director of the Kunsthalle, Vienna and now Director of the Kunstmuseum in Bern. Early prints and documentary material including the manuscript of his famous autobiographical, illustrated letter to Pierre Matisse and the manuscript of Jean-Paul Sartre’s text on Giacometti are also on display.
Many of the works have previously been unrecorded, 140 come from private collections and have not been shown for decades. The fully-illustrated catalogue that accompanies the exhibition includes essays by Valerie Fletcher, Reinhold Hohl, James Lord, Casimiro Di Crescenzo and Dr Patrick Elliott.
“Alberto Giacometti (1901-1966)” at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Belford Road, Edinburgh, EH4 3DR. Tel: +44 (0)131 556 8921, fax: +44 (0)131 343 2802.
Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as 'Giacometti against all odds'