Figurine, 1958, bronze, 63 x 11,5 x 19,5 cm. Collection Fondation Maeght, Saint-Paul de Vence. Photo: Claude Germain © Succession Giacometti / ADAGP, Paris 2011.
PARIS.- It is the most eventful exhibition of the fall, an exhibition that the specialists and art lovers of Giacometti, have been expecting for over fifty years. Giacometti’s attraction to the primitive figure was present very early on in the artist’s oeuvre. Etruscan art, which he first of all discovered in the Louvre, in the archeological department, where he went regularly, then during the exhibition on the Etruscans in 1955 in Paris, was, however, to produce in the artist a very meaningful turmoil, and made up one of the essential keys to the understanding of his best known and most powerful form of creation. The exhibition will be on view from September 16, 2011 through January 8, 2012 at the Pinacothèque de Paris.
No exhibition on the Etruscans has been shown in Paris since 1955. But it was precisely that show which enabled Giacometti to discover that extraordinary civilization, based on the economy of a seafaring people; a people of pirates according to the Greeks who regarded them as their chief rivals. That still strange and mysterious civilization was one of the most brilliant before Rome.
The Etruscans devised an outstanding art form, exceptional in its quality, richness and beauty, chiefly made up sculpted sarcophagi and of powerful warrior figures. They also developed a kind of very slender sculpted figure. It was such a shock for Giacometti that he wanted to go further in his quest and in his understanding of that people and its art.
For Giacometti the next step was to go to the Etruscans’ own land, in Tuscany. The journey to the centre of that world seems to have led him to Florence, to the archeological Museum, and then later on, to Vol¬terra, a city in Etruria, close to Pisa. There he discovered the emblematic figure of the Etruscan world, L’Ombre du soir (The Evening’s shadow). That work – that had not travelled to Paris in 1955 and which has never left Italy – is the Etruscans’ Mona Lisa. There exists a less striking version in the Louvre, that Giacometti already knew about for several years, but the one in Volterra provided a real shock for him.
A willowy figure, fine, powerful, mysterious, sensual, soulful and with an outstanding magnetic force, the Ombre du soir was a revelation. The artist was left speechless before that unique piece.
His work was totally overwhelmed: in order to prolong that discovery, Giacometti drew, painted and sculpted with reference to the Ombre du soir. None of the artist’s most famous figures, from the series of Femme de Venise to that of the Homme qui marche can be imagined, conceived without reference to the Ombre du soir.
It is that outstanding confrontation – which provides a new reading of Giacometti’s oeuvre – that the Pinacothèque de Paris is showing for the first time in Paris. The Ombre du soir shall be accompanied by more than one hundred and fifty Etruscan objects, exhibited alongside a unique group of about thirty sculptures, among the most famous by Giacometti.
The Collections of the Pinacothèque de Paris
« The Museum must not become a graveyard. » That sentence by Malraux is important because it expresses a fear which, unfortunately, has not been disavowed for years all over the world and not just in France.
Through that quote there exists a basic question, that of the work’s future once it has left the collector’s walls to enter the museum. Personally, for years now, I have never ceased to question myself as to the reason why the work of art dies, loses its life as soon as it is sanctuarized. Being lucky enough to see them in the collectors’ homes and being amazed by their splendor, I can never understand how, the moment I come across them years later in museums, they have lost that magic, that aura we find in the homes of those who loved them for so many years. Is that the fear Malraux wished to express, he who – an enlightened art lover – knew the collectors so well and was for a long time at the head of the French museums as Minister for Culture?
If we go back to the beginning, to the very essence of the work, to its initial function, we inevitably return to what the museum was in the very beginning: the curiosity cabinet. The place where the collected objects were stored and exhibited, i.e. the private museum put at the disposal of a chosen un public.
The idea was to renew to-day with everything the museum has lost of its essence and of its meaning, but this time by offering the secrets of the art lover’s cabinet to all our visitors. Transversality, as I often describe it, allows us to explain that all the artists from all times, of every culture and of all origins, make up a community out of the ordinary, but whose methods of thinking, of reflection and of approach are the same. The museum-sanctuary seems to have forgotten, by its ency¬clopedic approach, its chief role: to bring the works to life, gathered together and exchange a dialogue beyond the frontiers and periods, because, finally, they are all saying the same thing. They speak of beauty, of references, of convergences and of histories, and, above all, they summon up everything we hold in common. Thus you will notice that Tintoretto, Van Dyck, Reynolds or Bonnard represent the “worthies” in the same manner, be he French in the 19th century, Italian in the 16th, Flemish in the 17th or English in the 18th centuries. You will also note that Van Gogh painted interiors in the same fashion as Peter de Hooch or Delvaux, that Léger thought about and composed his still-lives in the same way that Heda painted a Vanity, that Brueghel, Daumier or Teniers had the same approach to popular festivities, and that landscapes by Hobbema or Courbet are constructed along the same lines. That Primitivism and the central placing of the body is the same from Rembrandt until Duchamp.
Marc Restellini, director of the Pinacothèque de Paris, provides us with his reflections on the part the museum must play at the heart of the city and of its period. Les Collections in the Pinacothèque are proof of his conclusions : about one hundred works, from the Primal Arts to the Moderns, gaze at each other, have a dialogue and query the pertinence of classification, of schools and of chapels, grouped together in thematic rooms: still-lives, Nativities, landscapes. The visitor is free to think about art in his own way: at the entrance to each room, a quote attracts his attention: « The private or religious feast, on the village square or in front of the cathedral; community living has always fascinated artists throughout the ages»; then it is up to the visitor to discover the correspondence between Utrillo’s La Cathédrale de Reims, La Danse de Mariage by Brueghel and Modigliani’s Hancka Zborowska . These paintings have come from all over the world, and they take over the spaces for various lengths of time; because Les Collections are not fixed, the deposit will increase and will live in accordance with the various and unusual hangings.
Crater with little columns. End 4th– early 3d century BC, terra cotta. Volterra, Etruscan museum Guarnacci © Photo : Arrigo Coppitz.