Masterworks from the Collection of Antoni Tàpies
‘There is nothing which is dead in [Giacometti’s] sculpture ... everything is, on the contrary, like with the true fetish that one can idolise (the true fetish, meaning those which resembles us and are the objectified form of our desire) prodigiously alive’
‘Oceanic sculpture, in which large flat heads are made, is much closer to the vision one truly has of the world than the sculptures of the Greeks and Romans’
‘Such, I think, is the sort of Copernican revolution Giacometti has tried to introduce into sculpture. Before him the effort was to sculpt being, and that absolute melted away in an infinity of appearances. He has chosen to sculpt the situated appearance, and he has shown that in this way the absolute may be attained. He shows us men and women already seen. But not already seen by him alone. These figures are already seen as the foreign language we try to learn is already spoken. Each one of them reveals man as one sees him to be, as he is for other men, as he appears in an intersubjective world, not, as I said above, to entangle himself at ten or twenty paces, but at a proper human distance; each shows us that man is not there first and to be seen afterwards, but that he is the being whose essence is to exist for others’
JEAN-PAUL SARTRE, ‘THE SEARCH FOR THE ABSOLUTE’, 1948
Conceived in 1929, during one of the most exciting and experimental periods in the life of Alberto Giacometti, Homme (Apollon) belongs to an innovative series of sculptures that brought the young artist’s work to the attention of Paris’s leading avant-garde group of the time: the Surrealists. A product of the curious and daring spirit of youth, this striking work, intimate in size yet powerful in resonance, reflects the artist’s response to the electrifying intellectual and artistic atmosphere of Paris in the 1920s, marking the beginning of his alignment with Surrealism. From this moment onwards, Giacometti’s sculptures would evolve to embrace an abstract, geometric style that was imbued with a strangely evocative power, presenting simplified, stylized and deeply haunting visions of humanity. One of an edition of six casts, of which others now reside in museum collections including the Kunstmuseum Basel and Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington D.C., Homme (Apollon) is in many ways a breakthrough work in the life and art of Giacometti, reflecting his lifelong quest to free himself from the constraints of reality, and instead initiate a new artistic language to depict the deeper, concealed elements of the human experience.
Reducing the human body to a structure of vertical and horizontal lines, Homme (Apollon) evokes an archetypical image akin to the earliest forms of visual representation of men. The work offers a masculine counterpart to another sculpture, Femme couchée qui rêve, also conceived in 1929. Seen together, the two sculptures seem to probe the primordial binary system of values attached to the masculine and feminine. The structure of Femme couchée qui rêve is horizontal, evoking the passive state of sleeping; Homme (Apollon) is vertical, evoking an erect state of alertness. In Femme couchée qui rêve, the waves of the two main planes evoke ideas of smoothness, gentleness, movement. In Homme (Apollon) the elements are arranged in a grid: sharp, rigid, solid. The titles of the two works are also revealing. The woman is ‘dreaming’, her eyes are seemingly closed: it is night, darkness and unruly emotions that are evoked. The man, on the contrary, is associated with ‘Apollo’, the god of the sun, of rationality and the arts. In this regard, the pair exemplifies Giacometti’s preoccupations at the time: the desire to distill the human form into a primordial sign, while trying to understand and confront the overruling importance of sexuality.
At the time when Homme (Apollon) was conceived, Giacometti had become close to the ‘dissident’ group of Surrealists that had gathered in rue Blomet, around the figure of Georges Bataille. The previous year, his work had attracted the attention of the painter Andre Masson who had introduced the artist to the rest of the group: Robert Desnos, Raymond Queneau, George Limbour, Antonin Artaud and Michel Leiris. Leiris became a close and lifelong friend of the artist, and it was he who would introduce Homme (Apollon), together with a small group of related works, on the pages of the group’s influential publication Documents in 1929; the first feature article on Giacometti. Founded by Bataille earlier that year, Documents aimed at bringing together ‘Doctrines, Archeology, Fine Arts, Ethnography’. The latter in particular would become the publication’s main weapon in its subversion of Western culture. The discipline itself was just beginning to gain momentum at the time: in 1930 Georges-Henri Riviere would start the process of transformation of the Musée du Trocadero into the Musee de l’Homme, giving African, Oceanic and the so-called ‘primitive’ arts a new authority and eminence.
It should not surprise then to discover a striking resemblance between the grid structure of Homme (Apollon) and a series of Chinese and Siberian bronze decorative armour plates published in the first issue of Documents in 1929, which came from the collection of David David-Weill. Although it is impossible to ascertain whether these played a role in the conception of Homme (Apollon), it is known that Giacometti was introduced to David-Weill by Riviere himself and it is possible that he may have perused his collection around that time. What is certain, however, is that works such as Homme (Apollon) are imbued with the spirit of their time: a fascination for the ethnographic artifact and the belief that the so-called primitive arts may in fact be more revealing than Western culture and, even, superior to it. Giacometti himself would state: ‘negro or oceanic sculpture, in which large flat heads are made, is much closer to the vision one truly has of the world than the sculptures of the Greeks and Romans’ (A. Giacometti, quoted in Y. Bonnefoy, Alberto Giacometti: Biographie d’une oeuvre, Paris, 1991, p. 133).
The reading which Leiris gave at the time of Homme (Apollon) and the related works published in Documents continues this line of thought, endowing the sculpture with an almost magical power connected to one’s inner self. ‘There is nothing which is dead in [Giacometti’s] sculpture’, wrote Leiris, ‘everything is, on the contrary, like with the true fetish that one can idolise (the true fetish, meaning those which resembles us and are the objectified form of our desire) prodigiously alive’ (M. Leiris, Écrits sur l’art, Paris, 2011, p. 236). The size of the work - intimate enough to be relatable, but still authoritative in its height - reinforces the idea of an idol: that of an object that can be privately worshipped but whose power is acknowledged by society.
Leiris’ 1929 reading of Homme (Apollon) echoes Antoni Tàpies’ own conception of the work of art, which he saw as possessing a presence, ;as strong as that of a talisman or an icon, which make felt their beneficial effects when placed in contact with the hand or the body’. And, in a direct relation to what was guiding Giacometti in 1929, Tapies continues: ‘We might recognise in these ideas the influences of the magic arts and of African and Oceanic art’ (A. Tapies, Memòria personal, Barcelona, 1977, p.174). For Tapies, an artist who had started his own artistic path under the aegis of Surrealism, Homme (Apollon) may have appeared as a token of that exciting moment in 1920s Paris, when Western art was opened up to receive the influence, the guidance and the mystic power of so-called primitive arts, preparing a legacy that would continue to inform the work of artists till the end of the century.
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Masterworks from the Collection of Antoni Tàpies
Other works from the edition are part of the collection of the Fondation Alberto Giacometti, Paris; Alberto Giacometti Stiftung Zurich and the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington DC.
signed, dated and numbered '6/6 Alberto Giacometti 1929' (on the back)
Alberto Giacometti (1901-1966)
Zurich, Kunsthaus Zurich, Giacometti, 1962-1963, no. 9 (illustrated, p. 2).
Vienna, Museum des 20. Jahrhunderts, Idole und Damonen, 1963, no. 37 (illustrated).
Kassel, Documenta III, Giacometti, 1964, no. 10 (illustrated).
Santa Barbara, University of California, Art Galleries, Sculpture - 20s and 30s, 1972, no. 23.
Santa Cruz, University of California, Mary Porter Sesnon Art Gallery, Modern Sculpture, 1977.
San Francisco, John Berggruen Gallery, Twentieth Century Sculpture, 1978.
Buffalo, Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Modern European Sculpture 1918 - 1945 Unknown Beings and Other Realities, 1979, no. 23 (illustrated, fig. 3). This exhibition later travelled to Minneapolis, Institute of Arts and San Francisco, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.
Venice, Palazzo Fortuny, Tàpies. Lo sguardo dell'artista, 2013, p. 66 (illustrated in colour, unpaged; illustrated, p. 66).
M. Leiris, 'Alberto Giacometti', in Documents, September 1929, p. 214, no. 4 (the plaster version illustrated).
P. Bucarelli, Giacometti, Rome 1962, p. 76, no. 11 (another cast illustrated, p. 95).
J. Dupin, Alberto Giacometti, Paris 1962 (the plaster version illustrated, p. 201).
Modern Sculpture from the Joseph H. Hirshhorn Collection, exh. cat., New York 1962, p. 215, no. 166 (another cast illustrated, p. 110).
Giacometti, exh. cat., Basel, Galerie Beyeler, 1963, no. 12 (another cast exhibited, illustrated).
F. Meyer, Alberto Giacometti: Eine Kunst existentieller Wirklichkeit, Stuttgart 1968, p. 60.
C. Huber, Alberto Giacometti, Paris 1970, p. 124 (another cast illustrated, p. 28)
R. Hohl, Alberto Giacometti, Lausanne 1971, p. 52 (another cast illustrated).
Alberto Giacometti: A Retrospective Exhibition, exh. cat., New York, The Solomon R. Guggenheim, 1974, p. 60, no. 19 (another cast exhibited, illustrated).
A. Lerner (ed.), The Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, New York 1974, p. 695, no. 342 (another cast illustrated, p. 246).
Gauguin to Moore, Primitivism in Modern Sculpture, exh. cat., Toronto, Art Gallery of Ontario, 1981, p. 230, no. 102 (another cast illustrated, p. 231).
B. Lamarche-Vadel, Alberto Giacometti, Paris 1984, p. 44, no. 61 (another cast illustrated).
C. Juliet, Giacometti, Paris 1985, p. 20 (another cast illustrated).
C. Klemm (ed.), Die Sammlung der Alberto Giacometti-Stiftung, Zurich 1990, pp. 153-154, no. 22 (another cast illustrated, p. 67).
Y. Bonnefoy, Alberto Giacometti, A biography of his work, Paris 1991, pp. 163-164, no. 156 (the plaster version illustrated, p. 164).
G. Didi-Huberman, Le cube et le visage, Autour d’une sculpture d’Alberto Giacometti, Paris 1993, p. 82 (dated ‘1930’).
T. Dufrêne, Alberto Giacometti: Les Dimensions de la réalité, Geneva 1994, p. 24.
J. Soldini, Alberto Giacometti, La somiglianza introvabile, Milan 1998, pp. 39 and 238.
Alberto Giacometti, exh. cat., Zurich, Kunsthaus Zurich, Alberto Giacometti, 2001-2002, p. 269, no. 29 (another cast exhibited, the plaster version illustrated, p. 75).
A. González, Alberto Giacometti: Works, Writings, Interviews, Barcelona 2006, p. 26 (the plaster version illustrated, p. 27).
A. Schneider (ed.), Alberto Giacometti: Sculpture, Paintings, Drawings, Munich 2008, p. 96, no. 17 (another cast illustrated).
Picasso-Giacometti, exh. cat., Paris, Musée National Picasso, 2016-2017, pp. 112 and 263, no. 44 (another cast exhibited, illustrated, p. 112).
Giacometti, exh. cat., London, Tate Modern, 2017, p. 294 (another cast exhibited, illustrated, p. 153).
The Alberto Giacometti Database, no. 3764.
Pierre Matisse Gallery, New York.
Private collection, Dallas.
Galerie Beyeler, Basel, by October 1967.
Private Collection, Palo Alto.
Anon. sale, Christie’s London, 29 November 1989, lot 537.
Waddington Galleries, London, by whom acquired at the above sale.
Antoni Tàpies, Barcelona (acquired from the above in 1993).
Thence by descent to the present owner.