The most expensive sculptor in the world: Alberto Giacometti at the Leopold Museum

The "Modernist Pioneer" presented in a new light: overview of oeuvre and companions from Picasso to Pollock

Vienna (OTS)– The Leopold Museum is dedicating a spectacular retrospective to Alberto Giacometti, the most important sculptor of the 20th century. The exhibition will be shown from the 17th of October 2014 to the 26th of January 2015 and was opened on the 16th of October by Giacometti’s “fellow artist” and master of an expanded concept of sculpture Erwin Wurm. Featuring approximately 150 objects, the exhibition "ALBERTO GIACOMETTI. Modernist Pioneer" presents all the periods of the artist’s oeuvre in a comprehensive manner, from his earliest works, to Cubist and Surrealist works all the way to the inimitable sculptures of his late oeuvre. The exhibition is complemented with outstanding works by Giacometti’s companions and contemporaries, from Picasso to Pollock, and features objects by 35 different artists.

Most important sculptor of the 20th century

The Swiss artist Alberto Giacometti (born in 1901 in Borgonovo near Stampa, died in 1966 in Chur) is among the most important artists of the 20th century and is considered by many to be the most eminent sculptor of his time. Today, Giacometti’s works fetch record prices on the international art market. His sculpture "L'homme qui marche I" (Walking Man I) sold at Sotheby's in 2010 for around 104 million Dollars (74 million Euros), the highest price ever paid for a sculpture. It has recently come to light that Sotheby’s will put Giacometti’s work “Chariot” (The Wain) up for sale at an upcoming auction. The estimated value of this work is around 100 million Dollars (80 million Euros), a sale that is likely to surpass the existing record. A total number of six sculptures were cast from this work. While number 2 will be auctioned in London on the 4th of November, number 3 is as of now being hosted by the Leopold Museum.

Overview of all periods of the artist’s oeuvre

The Giacometti exhibition at the Leopold Museum affords a comprehensive overview of the eminent Swiss artist’s impressive oeuvre. The last time that Viennese audiences saw such a great range of works by Alberto Giacometti was at the retrospective curated by Toni Stooss and held at the Kunsthalle Wien in 1996.It was Rudolf Leopold (1925-2010) who first brought a personal selection of works by Giacometti to the Leopold Museum in 2010 as part of the exhibition “Cézanne – Picasso – Giacometti – Masterpieces from the Fondation Beyeler”.

The Leopold Collection and the Kunsthaus Zürich

The exhibition is part of an extensive cooperation between the Leopold Museum and the Kunsthaus Zürich. In 1989 the Kunsthaus was the first public institution to show a comprehensive presentation of works from the private collection of Rudolf and Elisabeth Leopold under the heading “Egon Schiele and His Time: Austrian Painting and Drawing from 1900 to 1930 from the Leopold Collection”. Only afterwards was the exhibition shown at the Wiener Kunstforum der Länderbank (present-day Bank Austria Kunstforum Vienna). This Schiele exhibition marked the first major public appearance of the Leopold Collection and was one of the initial catalysts for the creation of the Leopold Museum Private Foundation and the establishment of the Leopold Museum by the Republic of Austria. The current Giacometti exhibition at the Leopold Museum marks the 20th anniversary of the Leopold Museum Private Foundation established in 1994.

EGON SCHIELE / JENNY SAVILLE – exhibition in Zurich

In order to mark the 25th anniversary of its “Schiele cooperation” with the Leopold Collection, the Kunsthaus Zürich decided to put on a new Schiele exhibition. The museum’s director Christoph Becker entrusted this task to Oliver Wick, who came up with the extraordinary idea of juxtaposing Egon Schiele’s works with the large-scale creations of the British contemporary artist Jenny Saville. Entitled “Egon Schiele / Jenny Saville”, this interesting presentation, for which the Leopold Museum and the Leopold Private Collection have acted as important lenders of Schiele’s masterpieces, including the famous works “Wally”, “The Hermits” and “Cardinal and Nun”, opened on the 10th of October and will be shown in Zurich until the 25th of January 2015.

Giacometti: cooperation with the Kunsthaus Zürich

In return, the Kunsthaus Zürich as well as the Zurich-based Alberto Giacometti Foundation have provided the Leopold Museum with numerous important works as loans for the current Giacometti exhibition “ALBERTO GIACOMETTI. Modernist Pioneer” in Vienna. The show is complemented with works from other eminent lenders, including the Fondation Alberto et Annette Giacometti in Paris, the Vienna mumok, the Klewan Collection, the Fondation Balthus, and many others. The exhibition presents 36 sculptures as well as 50 drawings, paintings and lithographs by Giacometti in Vienna. The presentation was initiated by the Director of the Kunsthaus Zürich Christoph Becker and was curated by Franz Smola, the Museological Director (interim) of the Leopold Museum, and Philippe Büttner, Curator of the Collection at the Kunsthaus Zürich, who are both renowned experts on early 20th century art.

Giacometti, Bacon, Schiele

In 1964 Alberto Giacometti and Francis Bacon visited the first Schiele exhibition in Great Britain, organized by Wolfgang Georg Fischer at the Marlborough Fine Art gallery in London. Fischer recalls that, at the time, Schiele was as unknown to British audiences as William Blake was to Austrians. In his diary, Fischer noted:“Francis and Giacometti quickly pass by Schiele’s oil paintings (The Hermits, Self-Seer, the1910 Self-Portrait and Reclining Nude of 1917) [which today form part of the Leopold Museum’s collection]. Giacometti stops short in front of the 1912 Late Autumn Tree and exclaims: ‘This is extraordinary!’”.The complete entry about this episode from Fischer’s as yet unpublished diary has been published exclusively in the catalogue accompanying the current exhibition.

ALBERTO GIACOMETTI. Modernist Pioneer. The exhibition

Swiss roots

Hailing from the Italian-speaking part of Switzerland, Alberto Giacometti was surrounded by art from an early age. His father Giovanni Giacometti (1868-1933) was an artist shaped by Post-Impressionist influences. The painter Cuno Amiet (1868-1961) was a close friend of his father’s as well as Alberto’s godfather. The current exhibition features works by both Giovanni Giacometti and Amiet.

Studies in Geneva and Paris

Alberto Giacometti started his artistic education in 1919 in Geneva. In 1922 he moved to Paris, where he chose to settle. He studied under Antoine Bourdelle (1861-1929) at the Académie de la Grande Chaumière, which was favored by students from abroad. In 1925 Bourdelle enabled his student to participate in the exhibition of the famous Salon des Tuileries, where Giacometti premiered his Cubist figures.

Under the spell of Cubism

From the mid-1920s Giacometti found himself under the spell of Cubism. In his sculptures, Giacometti addressed volume, dissecting mass in order to reassemble it using firm and mechanical structures.

Influences: ancient and non-European art

Like many artists of the time, Giacometti was fascinated by the power and talent for abstraction of ancient and non-European art. He derived important influences from Cycladic culture and African art. Giacometti was especially impressed with the sculptures ofConstantin Brâncuşi (1876-1957), who is represented in the current exhibition with an outstanding work.

The Surrealists

In late 1929 Giacometti had his big break. His works were shown at the Galerie Jeanne Bucher and were purchased immediately by important collectors. He was recognized as a promising artist. Giacometti noted: “Some of them said that they hadn’t seen anything for years that impressed them as much as my sculptures, and now I have earned my status in Paris”. In 1932 Alberto Giacometti formally joined the circle of Surrealists surrounding the poet, author and theoretician André Breton (1896-1966). He met Joan Miró (1893-1983), Max Ernst (1891-1976), Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) and René Magritte (1898-1967), among others. The current exhibition juxtaposes Giacometti’s Surrealist creations with works by his artist friends and acquaintances from around the same time. Giacometti was also friends with André Derain and Balthus (1908-2001). All these artists feature in the exhibition with prominent works.

Break with the Breton group: drastic stylistic change

The fact that Giacometti increasingly returned to a realistic manner of depiction and thus departed from Breton’s strict doctrines, led to his exclusion from the Breton group in 1935. This resulted in an artistic crisis that was to last for twelve years. In the late 1930s and the war years, which he mostly spent in Switzerland, Giacometti radicalized the proportions of his works and initially created sculptures in a miniature format.

Giacometti’s late sculptures

From the 1940s Giacometti arrived at the unmistakable manner of expression of his mature period. While representational depictions of the human figure were once again at the heart of his creations, he embarked on an entirely unique path characterized by striking changes of proportion. During this phase, Giacometti created the distinctive style of his late years. The figures of this late and mature phase are characterized by extremely elongated proportions and unsettled surfaces. Eluding a concrete sensual understanding, they appear to beholders like dematerialized, metaphysical manifestations that enter into a special relationship with the space around them.

Staging of the sculptures in the room

The first two large rooms of the exhibition serve to underscore the sacral character of Giacometti’s late figures. The hieratic statuesseem to shine from within and make the eternal greatness of man-made human depictions tangible. The strong spatial presence of Giacometti’s sculptures is accommodated in the exhibition by a special staging and positioning of the works. The rooms’ colors, the coarse floor and the large lamps evoke the atmosphere of a foundry. The white outlines of the figures refer to the artist’s process, to the plaster casts and molds that eventually led to the final bronze sculptures.

Photographs: approaching the person Alberto Giacometti

A selection of outstanding photographs of Alberto Giacometti allows visitors to visually approach the person behind the artist. All the photographs were taken by eminent photographers, including René Burri (born 1933), Henri Cartier Bresson (1908-2004), Robert Doisneau (1912-1994) and Man Ray (1890-1976). Alberto Giacometti was also captured on camera by the eminent Austrian photographers Franz Hubmann (1914-2007) and Inge Morath (1923-2002).

International breakthrough, international context

When Giacometti became increasingly known to an international audience owing to exhibition projects in London and the US, his works were often presented in connection with eminent exponents of Modernism after 1945, especially the representational painter Francis Bacon (1909-1992), the abstract Expressionists Jackson Pollock (1912-1956) and Mark Tobey (1890-1976), as well as Cy Twombly (1928-2011).

Catalogue accompanying the exhibition

The current exhibition is accompanied by a richly illustrated, bilingual (German/English) catalogue entitled “ALBERTO GIACOMETTI. Modernist Pioneer“, edited by Franz Smola and Philippe Büttner, with contributions by Casimiro Di Crescenzo, Wolfgang Georg Fischer, Franz Smola and Chiara Galbusera, comprising 232 pages and 153 illustrations, ISBN 978-3-85033-847-9, price € 29.90, available at the Leopold Museum Shop.

Framework program surrounding the exhibition

The exhibition is surrounded by an extensive framework program, including workshops, activities for children at the LEO Kinderatelier, art education programs for schools and bookable evening tours. On Sundays and holidays, free synoptic tours are held at 3 pm (free participation with a valid museum ticket).

Cooperation partners:

Alberto Giacometti Foundation

Kunsthaus Zürich



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