Alberto Giacometti is known for his stringy, elongated figures but this retrospective at Tate Modern shows that the bespectacled painter-sculptor created so much more.
In the first room you’re greeted by a gaggle of plaster and bronze heads. Some are big, some little, some smiling, some sombre. Many represent family and friends and all size you up as you enter.
The second room shows more abstract sculptures. They’re still human, as you’ll gather by the names – “Reclining Woman who Dreams” and “Gazing Head” – as well as a lip-like squiggle here and a beady eye there. There’s no missing the phallic implications of “Disagreeable Object”.
There’s something charming and, at the same time, sad about the tiny sculptures and busts he made during the war – their diminutive size a reflection of the dire situation. Afterwards, he began to create the spindly sculptures that we all know and love him for. These bronze, stick-like figures seem to disappear and reappear as you move around their wafer-thin forms.
When he represented France at the Venice Biennale in 1956 he showed the “Women of Venice” – eight female figures perched on doorstop-like plinths. Made of plaster, you can see glimmers of the process in their rangy limbs – a rare glimpse of the artist at work.
Giacometti created scribbly sketches of portraits emerging from a mishmash of lines, as well as ghostly blurred paintings. And it’s not just humans that he represented: in one room you’ll find a scrawny dog, its nose to the ground as if following a scent. His influences were never ending – cubism, surrealism, Egyptian sculptures, African art – and at this wonderful exhibition, you’ll witness them all coming together.
Until 10 September 2017.
Tate Modern, Bankside, London, SE1 9TG.