At first glance, Giacometti and Klein, artists born a generation apart, could not be more different: Giacometti was a master of material form, and of the representation of the figure; Klein was an influential theorist whose art married the conceptual with the cosmic. In the 1950s and early 1960s, the two artists lived and worked within a mile of each other, in Montparnasse, Paris, but there are few clues in their work to suggest that they shared the same artistic milieu. What they did have in common was an acute consciousness of the catastrophic effects of the Second World War and its aftermath on European culture. Each dealt with it in his own way: in his sculptures, Giacometti struggled to evince a vital human presence from nothing; Klein shunned the personal, autobiographical mark, attempting to dematerialise painting to the point of pure saturated colour. Exhibition curator Joachim Pissarro remarks, “Both artists, rather than creating something that reflected the chaos, chose to rise above it, transforming and deciphering it into elegant, lyrical matter.”
In the large, light-filled galleries at Gagosian Grosvenor Hill, Giacometti and Klein will be shown together for the first time. In an ambitious and immersive installation conceived by Pissarro, Giacometti's nervously modelled figures and heads are confronted by Klein's intense and expansive colours. Each artist is generously represented by works on loan from the Fondation Alberto Giacometti, the Yves Klein Archives, the Beyeler Foundation, and distinguished private collections. Twenty-five sculptures by Giacometti—including such classics as the hieratic Femme de Venise I (1956), the austere L'homme qui marche I (1960), and the almost comic Le Nez (1947)—will be juxtaposed with as many works from Klein, including Monochromes, Anthropometries, Fire Paintings, and a Sponge Sculpture. It is in the Anthropometries—direct impressions of the naked female body in blue paint on large sheets of paper—that Klein comes closest to Giacometti in his desire to record the human trace, albeit without any overt evidence of his own hand.
The title of the exhibition, “In Search of the Absolute,” originates from an essay on Giacometti by the existentialist philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre. Sartre wrote that “Giacometti... is forever beginning anew;” that with each sculpture it is “necessary to start again from zero;” and that Giacometti's images of humanity are “always mediating between nothingness and being.” In the conceptual and working processes of both artists, “nothingness” became “the void,” a space of infinite potential. Giacometti devoted much of his career to the struggle between matter and meaning: how to reduce the figure's mass as far as possible while imbuing it with essential force; while Klein's goal was to reinvest the vacuum of nothingness as a void of “blue profundity.”
In this speculative juxtaposition, “In Search of the Absolute” seeks to evoke the differences as well as the affinities between these two groundbreaking artists of the modern period, bringing new light to their aspirations and achievements.
The accompanying publication will include essays by Joachim Pissarro, Cecilia Braschi, and Richard Calvocoressi; interviews by Pissarro with Catherine Grenier and Daniel Moquay; and historical texts—some translated for the first time—by Isaku Yanaihara, Dino Buzzati, and Pierre Descargues; as well as detailed chronologies and a map of Montparnasse dating from the period in which both artists lived there.
This is the third time that Gagosian Gallery has collaborated with the Yves Klein Archives, following earlier exhibitions “Sponge Reliefs” (Gagosian New York, 1989); and “Fire at the Heart of the Void” (Gagosian New York, 1993). Exhibitions of Giacometti's work have been presented in Europe, the U.S., and Asia with the support of the Fondation Alberto Giacometti, including “Living, Looking, Making” (Gagosian London, 2007); “Isabel and Other Intimate Strangers: Portraits by Alberto Giacometti and Francis Bacon” (Gagosian New York, 2009); “Giacometti in Switzerland” (Gagosian Geneva, 2011); and “Alberto Giacometti: Without End” (Gagosian Hong Kong, 2014).