“This is the largest ever retrospective of Giacometti’s work,” exclaims Catherine Grenier, the director of the Alberto and Annette Giacometti Foundation in Paris. “And it’s a first for China!”
She and Budi Tek, the founder and owner of the Yuz Museum in Shanghai, have toiled over the past year to mount this overview of the sculptor’s work. “Alberto Giacometti Retrospective”, which opened on 22 March, features 250 pieces, all lent by the foundation. They span Giacometti’s career, from his birth into an artistic family to the sculptures he was working on just before his death in 1966. The museum is expecting around 300,000 visitors before the show closes on 31 July.
Giacometti is already known to artists in China and his work is taught in art schools. But it has never been shown in the country, and Grenier says that the public are not aware of his significance. She sees the show as a way of not only bringing the artist’s work on to a broader stage, but also introducing visitors to many aspects of Modern art, notably Cubism and Surrealism.
Grenier first met Tek during Art Basel in 2014. She had recently taken over as director of the foundation, after leaving the Centre Pompidou in Paris, and suggested to Tek that he could hold an exhibition of the Swiss-born artist in Shanghai. “I went to visit the Yuz Museum, which is very beautiful, and saw that the conditions were suitable for the show,” says Grenier, who has organised it with associate curator Christian Alandete.
Tek says: “Although I already knew Giacometti’s work through shows in auction houses and catalogues, the first time I saw his art in a ‘museum’ context was at the Fondation Maeght in Saint-Paul-de-Vence [in France]. I was carried away by the strength and lightness of the sculptures, the shadows of the human figure that they implied; they had a vibrancy that touched me profoundly.”
Among the pieces on show in Shanghai are Walking Man (1960), Walking Woman (1932), The Nose (1947), The Cage (1951), Objet Desagréable (1932) and Spoon Woman (1927; 1953 version). The scenography, by the French designer Adrien Gardère, is elegant and minimalist, with the works displayed amid a forest of white pillars in the vast former airplane hangar.
“We wanted a broad, generous, spectacular exhibition,” Tek says. It is organised around two threads. One is chronological, moving through the phases of Giacometti’s practice with his drawings, paintings and sculptures, as well as archival material. The other is thematic, with sections devoted to portrait heads, his models (including his wife, Annette, and brother Diego), landscapes and theatre décors, as well as images of Giacometti taken by the photographers of his time—among them Man Ray, Brassaï and Irving Penn.
“The foundation’s holdings are extremely rich, so we are able to explore the multiple facets of Giacometti’s work,” Grenier says, citing the 35 portrait busts, some with their plasters, and the many sculptures from the Surrealist period. The show includes 150 lithographs of Paris produced between 1959 and 1965. They were shown at Gagosian Hong Kong in 2014, lent by the foundation.
The costs of such a spectacular show are, inevitably, spectacular, in the region of €3m. The Yuz foundation has picked up the tab, which includes shipping and insurance, and has helped with the restoration of some pieces. It is also supporting the foundation in Paris, notably helping with its planned move in 2017 to a new building in Montparnasse.
“This exhibition is going to change the perception of Giacometti’s work,” Tek says. “The main issue was: how to make Giacometti contemporary? We want to insist on the relevance of his creation today. It is very exciting to show Modern art in a contemporary art museum.”