Unreal Nature

December 13, 2016


Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:34 am

… it belongs at a certain imaginary distance from us which is independent of its distance from us as an object.

This is from ‘Giacometti ‘ (1955) in About Modern Art: Critical Essays 1948-96 by David Sylvester (1996):

Giacometti’s standing figures suggest objects long buried underground and now unearthed to stand out in the light. Fossils perhaps, but also columns or caryatids — caryatids indeed, with their compact, frontal stance, except that they seem too tenuous to be that. But they are not ethereal: they have a density which calls to mind the shrunken heads that cannibals preserve. They are figures without ‘physical superflousness,’ like Starbuck in Moby Dick, their thinness a ‘condensation.’


… The sense of the transitory in these sculptures is a sense of loss.

It is also a statement of fact. The slender proportions and agitated surfaces may be loaded with a mass of romantic evocations whose weight might be a compensation for lack of corporeal mass, but the conjunction of these properties also serves to suggest quite simply that our sensations, for subjective reasons or objective ones, are always shifting, would cease to be sensations if fixed like a butterfly by a pin.

[line break added] If they are to be trapped or fixed, it must be less rudely. Now Giacometti’s aim, as he has put it, is ‘to give the nearest possible sensation to that felt at the sight of the subject.’ It is evident that for him this entails making it clear that the sensation is fugitive. And to make this clear, he uses forms whose appearance contradicts our notions about the appearance of things.

… This long slender figure with its broken surface — sometimes as tall as ourselves and no thicker than our arm — clearly bears no relation to the real volume of a human body. There is a kind of core, and outside the core a suggestion of mass dissolving into space. The volume is confessedly an unknown quantity, by implication an unknowable quantity: the fact that in reality contours are elusive is conveyed by the fact that in the sculpture there simply is no contour.

Consider the elongation again. Is it not akin to the kind of elongation produced in painting by the device of anamorphosis? A sort of anamorphosis has distorted the sculptured figure or head, distorted it so that it embodies a perspective, implying that it was seen from a particular angle or distance, so that it belongs at a certain imaginary distance from us which is independent of its distance from us as an object.

… What matters most is not that the language of sculpture has been extended. What matters most is that, in arriving at proportions which give effects beyond the normal range of sculpture, Giacometti creates a mysterious and poignant image of the human head or figure, fragile, lost in space, yet dominating it.

My most recent previous post from Sylvester’s book is here.




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