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Alberto Giacometti, plasters to reshape

Is it to know that they have disappeared? In the photos, the works are reminiscent of the silent relics of an extinct civilization. A conical volume decorated with two eyes and a navel, which stands like a totem in the middle of a deserted workshop (1 + 1 = 3, 1934). A puzzle of geometric shapes assembled on a plate (Composition, circa 1927-1928), like a miniature Stonehenge. A faux menhir tapered like a knife, where we recognize two nipples and two arms – Woman (flat I), 1928-1929. These ghostly works are all by Alberto Giacometti, who is between 26 and 33 years old when he creates them, and they have all disappeared. Destroyed, by the artist or by accident, or simply passed out in ether without a trace.


The phenomenon was more common in Switzerland than in others, we learn in the very pretty exhibition “In search of missing works”, at the Giacometti Institute (Paris XIVe), because the young artist willingly got rid of his work, whether it was due to a lack of space in his small studio or by perfectionism, destroying and starting over again, continuing in the same vein. And that’s without counting the fragility of the plaster with which they were made (the least expensive material for a student) or the casualness of its first collectors, not very attentive to the creations of a quasi-unknown. From 1935, according to the catalog, it is entirely that “Destroying is part of the creative process” from Switzerland, who then begins to document the works before liquidation.

We can lament these disappearances (because everything, or almost everything is good, with Giacometti, even before he makes Giacometti), we can also do something with it, and that is precisely what undertook the commissioner, Michèle Kieffer. Because of these sculptures there remain sketches, photos, written comments, and unlike the prehistoric artefacts to which they are related, on the beautiful black and white prints signed by anonymous or friends, Man Ray or Marc True, it is still possible to make them speak, even to reconstruct them.


So this little rectangular man, like robotics before the hour, behind which the artist poses in 1927. A letter from Giacometti to Matisse tells us that he sometimes had “Want to do it again” : “It was my first figure”, he writes. So this Anxious woman in a bedroom harmed hert (1931-1932) that we discover in a photo of Man Ray: a jaw, like a wolf trap, seems to attack a female form lying, echoing both the Slaughtered woman (1932-1933) than a superb, immense documentary reconstruction produced for the expo, that of Silence bird (1930-1933). Heart of the journey, she cages two gigantic creatures half-insects half-human – unless it is a praying mantis and a man armed with a fork – in a fight whose violence has something as striking as the sheer beauty of its forms.

Elisabeth Franck-Dumas

In search of missing works Giacometti Institute, 5, rue Victor-Schoelcher, 75014. Until April 12.


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