Art of the Day

20 Mar

Piazza. by Alberto Giacometti (1901-1966). Bronze, 1947-1948. Several casts exist, one of which is on view at the Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford, CT, and another of which belongs to the collection of the Guggenheim Museum, NYC.

Notes from guggenheim.org:

In the late 1940s Alberto Giacometti produced attenuated thin figures not only of the life-size height of Standing Woman, but also on the miniature scale of the figures who inhabit his Piazza of 1947–48. Four men stride across a wide plaza, each moving toward the center, yet none apparently directed toward an encounter with one another. A single woman, whose stiff posture recalls Standing Woman, stands isolated and motionless near the center. The featureless figures exist independently within their haphazardly grouped unity, their multiple, nonconverging paths suggesting individual ambitions and absorptions.

The flat bronze slab on which the figures stand serves both as base and as the plaza setting. Such a tabular format first appears in The Palace at 4 a.m., 1932–33, a highly theatrical work of Giacometti’s Surrealist period. Giacometti began placing individual figures on large bases as early as 1942, but only in 1948, in Three Men Walking, did a group of attenuated figures appear on a thin square bronze base that also suggests a city square.

Giacometti’s scene derives from modern urban experience. He states: “In the street people astound and interest me more than any sculpture or painting. Every second the people stream together and go apart, then they approach each other to get closer to one another. They unceasingly form and re-form living compositions in unbelievable complexity. . . . It’s the totality of this life that I want to reproduce in everything I do. . . .”¹

There are five different casts of this work, and a somewhat larger version with the figures placed in slightly different positions exists in five casts as well. In all of these sculptures, an eye-level examination of the work alters the scale of miniaturization first perceived by the viewer. The vastness of the empty piazza and the anonymity of the figures are revealed by such closeup scrutiny.

My comments:

In my art history class in high school, our textbook linked Giacometti to postwar art and said that its significance had to do with the isolation and emptiness that people experienced after the horrific World War 2. Based on the caption above, it seems as if Giacometti’s work isn’t so dependent on current events after all, because what his sculpture expresses are conditions of human nature that are always present. If you’ve ever been on a crowded subway train by yourself, you’ve probably experienced that feeling of being at once completely alone and anonymous in the world while at the same time being completely immersed in and part of the world and of humanity. On one hand we hear the conversations of strangers on the train or can see the titles of the books or newspapers they are reading, or can see the song they are listening to on their iPod. On the other hand, these glimpses into the identities of other people whom we’ll probably never see again do not provide us with the whole picture, or even an honest fascimile of the picture of a person, and so even while we feel like we might know something about them we really don’t, and before we can figure out more the next stop comes and either they or us leave the train. And so in Giacometti’s sculpture, while the figures appear to walk towards each other and share common traits just as humans do in real life, they still retain this sense of solitude and anonymity in relation to each other as well as to themselves. Giacometti managed to create an excellent arrangement and modeling of the figures in order to convey just that.

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