The ambitious Bacon Giacometti exhibition is the first to study in depth the parallel, creative careers of two of the 20th century’s most influential artists: Alberto Giacometti and Francis Bacon.
Alberto Giacometti (1901 – 1966) and Francis Bacon (1909 – 1992) had a decisive influence on the art of the twentieth century. This exhibition brings the two artists together for the first time. Different as their art may initially appear, the joint presentation of their work reveals many surprising similarities.
Bacon and Giacometti both take the human figure as their main point of artistic reference. Both occupy themselves with the fragmented and deformed body. Moreover, they devote themselves to portraiture and the depiction of human individuality in an almost obsessive manner. Both claimed to be “realists,” while exploring new extremes of abstraction.
Giacometti and Bacon worked surrounded by clutter, in exceptionally small and cramped studios. These two spaces, the centers of their creativity, have been reconstructed specially for the exhibition as full-scale multimedia projections that provide a vivid insight into the artists’ work environment.
The exhibition comprises 100 paintings and sculptures from major museums and private collections in Europe and the USA. It has been organized by the Fondation Beyeler in cooperation with the Fondation Giacometti, Paris, the administrator of the artist’s estate, which has made available most of the works by Giacometti presented here, some of which are rarely exhibited or have never been publicly displayed before. The exhibition is curated by Catherine Grenier, Michael Peppiatt and Ulf Küster.
Spectacular insights into the artists’ studios
Their small and sparse studios were very special places for Bacon and Giacometti: chaotic spaces from which great art emerged. The multimedia installation at the Bacon Giacometti show in the final room, devised specially for the exhibition in Basel, offers a fascinating insight into this personal cosmos. The studios of both artists have been reconstructed from historic photographs and brought to spectacular life in two full-scale projections across the walls and floors, created by Christian Borstlap, head of the Amsterdam design studio Part of a Bigger Plan.
Alberto Giacometti moved into his legendary Paris studio in rue Hippolyte-Maindron in 1926 and worked there for forty years, until shortly before his death. The video projection, lasting about two and a half minutes, shows thirty-seven photographs of the artist’s studio, dating from different periods and taken by famous photographers such as René Burri, Sabine Weiss, Robert Doisneau, and Ernst Scheidegger, who visited Giacometti in his working space. The photographs include images of his work and his models: in particular, his wife Annette, the Japanese philosophy professor Isaku Yanaihara, and the writer and anthropologist Michel Leiris. His gallerist Pierre Matisse is also to be seen in the projection. The projection, with an area corresponding to the studio’s original dimensions of 4.90 x 4.70 meters, conveys a vivid sense of the significance of this remarkable space, which no longer exists but was a creative powerhouse and a center of attraction for many celebrated personalities of Giacometti’s time.
Francis Bacon moved in 1961 to a new studio at 7 Reece Mews in the London district of South Kensington. This modest space, above a former stable and with only a skylight to provide natural light, was where the artist worked and lived until his death. Bacon’s studio was famously chaotic, cluttered with layer upon layer of old newspapers and magazines, books, crumpled and torn photographs and reproductions of art works, drawings and samples of painting materials. The plethora of images scattered seemingly at random around the room provided Bacon with many of his motifs and served as key sources of inspiration for his paintings.
The video projection shows the painted walls and the studio debris: again, the projection surface, measuring 4.80 x 8.90 meters, matches the dimensions of the original space. The film was created using fifteen images by the photographer Perry Ogden, which show the studio in its original state shortly after the artist’s death. It was subsequently dismantled and painstakingly recreated in Dublin City Gallery The Hugh Lane, where it can still be seen.
The projections are overlaid with the voices of Bacon and Giacometti, speaking about their work and their studios. The Giacometti soundtrack is from a 1963 archive recording, subsequently edited by the film director Jean-Marie Drot for his documentary Un homme parmi les hommes: Alberto Giacometti (1992). Bacon’s comments are taken from a BBC film of 1966 (Francis Bacon: Fragments of a Portrait) and a profile of the artist made in 1985 for The South Bank Show on what is now ITV London.
Whereas Bacon admitted only a very few outsiders to his studio, Giacometti received visits from countless contemporaries, including Jean Paul-Sartre, Michel Leiris and Marlene Dietrich. The video projections convey the studio atmosphere and provide a direct, unexpected insight into the artists’ working methods, opening up a further intriguing dimension of their work.