Giacometti’s search for truth at Tate Modern

Curated with the lightest touch by two women, the Giacometti show at Tate Modern reveals the artists search for truth and integrity. Catherine Morris and Catherine Grenier present Giacometti’s work in blocks and themes for us to ponder. Like a 3D catalogue.

Giacometti's truthworking in his hotel room the Hotel de Rive, Geneva(1944)
Giacometti working in his hotel room at the Hotel de Rive, Geneva(1944)

First off, a room full of heads. At the front we encounter early naturalistic heads. Towards the back we move through time. Like a well ordered crowd the sculptures vary in scale and form. We compare the flattened with the surrealist, the minuscule and the bold which take us through to the recognisably ‘Giacometti’ heads. Which are scrutinised and condensed. All these manifestations in the persuit of truth.


It’s like being in Giacometti’s brain. You see nuances along the journey of his creativity and he shows us the potential within things.

He’s obsessed with finding some sort of truth in his work- that’s fascinating.

Alberto Giacometti was born in Switzerland in1901, the eldest son of a well know post impressionist painter. From an early age Alberto was drawing and copying images from books (a habit he never lost).

Having an artist father could be seen as a disadvantage but one wonders if being exposed to a ‘point of view’ from childhood might prove a head start in finding and accepting new approaches.

Making money is often an issue for artists and Giacometti was happy to work on useful and beautiful objects alongside his art, making lamps, vases and jewellery.

“Objects interest me hardly any less than sculpture and there is a point at which the two touch.”

I find this standpoint completely believable. The modern distinction between object and art is, in my opinion, driven by those with an eye on profit and status.

During Giacometti’s surrealist period he created some strange and disturbing things. One piece from 1931 ‘Objet désagréable à jeter [Disagreeable Object to be thrown away …’  is particularly nasty and a year later his ‘Woman with her throat cut’ is a disturbing poisonous praying mantis type form that preempts the creatures from sci-fi movies made later in the twentieth century.

Giacometti Truth
Giacommeti Woman with her Throat Cut

Of course not all Giacometti’s sculptures of women are violent and dangerous but one can’t help asking where such work came from. Having contracted mumps as a teenager he became infertile. It may also be true that he also suffered from impotency.

Alberto Giacometti’s most beautiful female forms are shown here majestically. Eight out of the nine ‘Women of Venice’ have been dutifully collected together for the exhibition.  The nine original standing nudes were Giacometti’s exhibit, when representing France at the1956 Venice Biennale. Tall, and slender they feel just out of reach.

Giacometti- Truth -Tate-Modern Women of Venice
Giacometti-Tate-Modern Women of Venice


Giacometti was happy to create the tiniest most unassuming works. During the war, after a trip to visit his mother he was unable to re-enter France. For the remainder of the war he lived and worked in an hotel room in Geneva. Here he made some tiny sculptures. One gallery in the show contains these minute pieces in large cabinets. Rendered to perfection with just as much care and focus as the larger works, perhaps even more.

‘By doing something a half a centimetre high” he said ” you are more likely to get a sense of the universe than if you try to do the whole sky’.

The paintings (flanking the sculptures in the later galleries) leave evidence of Giacometti’s search for truth and scale. As he paints his sitter you can see how they diminish, recede into the canvas leaving shadows of their previous size in their wake.

This is a show to wander around. The galleries feel open and free.You can enjoy the work from a distance and the space accommodates the people as well as the art. Sit and look and be amongst something tangible and real.

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