This vast exhibition illustrates the long career of the Swiss artist and includes not only sculptures, but also diaries, photos, sketches and paintings for a total of over 175 works.
Alberto Giacometti experienced in full the dilemma of Western art after the break-off of the Avant-gardes, and then how the tragedies of the ‘900 shattered something in mankind’s collective conscience, taking existential problems to centre stage. In this cultural climate, Giacometti was obsessed with the problem of the likeness of the human figure and the difficulty of grasping it as a whole. This was a search for the absolute with the full awareness of never being able to reach it, due to the fact that the absolute is incompatible with modernity.
The artist had close personal ties with Jean-Paul Sartre, exponent of Existentialism, a philosophical school that investigated the irrationality of human existence, defined by fragility and restlessness. On the basis of these feelings, Giacometti carried out decades of research on the human figure. He reached, through painting and drawing, that sculptural style for which he is universally known: slender and emaciated figures that are almost a translation of existentialism into images. At the onset, his sculptures, with smooth surfaces, often had symbolic forms – like the Spoon Woman, whose belly-egg, concave above and then convex, alludes to the womb.
Then the 1930s marked the turning point, and he returned to sculpting from real life, although the figures are purified from every superfluous detail. Operating a progressive reduction that removed the flesh of the body and extended it unnaturally, he represented filiform bodies that embody the condition of modern man, his loneliness and that anguish afflicts the body, having already corroded the spirit. The feet are robust and root the bodies on pedestals. However, they do not give stability, rather isolating the figures from space, exemplifying the loneliness of the human condition. Even on the surface, they are grainy and not very compact, bearing the marks of fragility and time. They have been compared to wet sand, moulded by fingertips. Therefore, Giacometti shows us the 20th century, suffered and struggling in precarious balance, advancing in the world with difficulty; and, as if these figures, as the artist himself says “… need a great amount energy to stay upright”.
It is striking that these emblems of human fragility are exhibited in an icon of progress, a building that revolutionized the very concept of museum. The Guggenheim was in fact designed by Frank Lloyd Wright in the 1940s, when the famous American architect was pushing towards new futuristic experiments.
Outside, there are two closed spiral bodies that decrease downwards, breaking with the urban context made up of orthogonal blocks. Inside a continuous helical ramp wraps around an empty central space covered by a dome-skylight, creating a unique elliptical path. Wright’s idea was that architecture and works of art should merge into a unique symphony in which to envelop the visitor.
A revolutionary movement in the interior and the exterior as a monumental sculpture, this building inaugurated the numerous set of museums that would attract visitors not only for the works on display but also for the visual impact of the building itself.
Anna Maria Calabretta