Seeing. Feeling. Being: Alberto Giacometti

In order to exist just once in the world, it is necessary never again to exist.
Albert Camus

Man Crossing a Square, 1949

Giacometti’s work haunts us in many ways. The bronze’s gaze, for once, seems to pierce through our own gaze when it returns nothing with their seemingly empty eye sockets. The literature often cited with his work, notably Jean-Paul Sartre’s Being and Nothingness: an Essay on Phenomenology Ontology (1943) suggests a reduction of more than representation with his works. They are meditative, and vacuous, traversing perhaps into the artist’s understanding of being, and nothingness, two concepts that could perhaps be approached with a Buddhist vision of emptiness and phenomenology. Phenomenology, as explained rather clearly by the American Heritage dictionary, is ‘a philosophy or method of inquiry based on the premise that reality consists of objects and events as they are perceived or understood in human consciousness and not of anything independent of human consciousness’.

Noted for his thin, stick like elongated figures, his lithographs from his Paris san fin book on exhibit is a pleasant surprise for some. His drawings actually reveal more than his daily life and environment, but possibly the kind of strokes, pushing and pulling, adding more than reducing each small stump of clay he adds to his enigmatic figures. The sculptural process just repetitive, experiential and instinctive as drawing. Like many other artist, his drawings are part of a daily ritual to fill his mind with ideas and inspiration for other works. The magic of museum frames does little to embellish his ordinary lithographs/drawings, paling in comparison with his sculptures.

As a side display to this exhibition, Victor Tan’s sculptures stand and hang outside the Giacometti galleries, suggesting a certain affinity between the two artist’s works. Both seem to deal with the notion of emptiness, Victor Tan’s stainless steel wires surrounding a void to create a volume; Giacometti’s bronzes are thin and frail to a minimal form and volume.

The exhibition seem to place more emphasis on the biography of the artist, showing fantastic black and white photographs by Ernst Scheidegger, of the artist’s studio and the processes involved in making his sculptures. These documentaries, together with the film, reveal another side of the artist usually hidden by his association with big ideas of Existentialism. This other side, with all due respect, paints him as a mortal, a laborious artist solely focused on his art, and what it seeks to convey.

What can be felt, is the artist’s transcendental fervor for art making, separating him from other flirtatious socialite artists like Pablo Picasso, filling the core of his existence with drawings and sculptures, each day seemingly his last.

6.0 of 10 stars

Seeing. Feeling. Being: Alberto Giacometti

1 May – 15 June 2008, Singapore Art Museum.
an exhibition catalogue is available from the Museum Shop.

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