Excessive Lifestyle and a Common Muse
MORE THAN 100 WORKS BY GIACOMETTI AND BACON ARE CURRENTLY PRESENTED SIDE BY SIDE IN THE NINE ROOMS OF THE THEMATICALLY CURATED EXHIBITION OF THE FONDATION BEYELER. SUCH A JUXTAPOSITION REVEALS THE DIFFERENCES BUT ALSO THE SIMILARITIES BETWEEN THE TWO ARTISTS.
Bacon and Giacometti shared an unwavering belief in the importance of the human figure throughout their creative lives. They were intensively concerned with the role of tradition, for both studied, copied and paraphrased the old masters. Both were interested in the challenge of two-dimensional and three-dimensional representation of space, integrating cage-like structures into their works to isolate the figures in their surroundings. They also dealt with fragmented and deformed bodies and obsessively turned to portraiture and the associated depiction of human individuality.
Each of them claimed to be a ‘realist’.
In their artistic work, Giacometti and Bacon dealt with the same existential questions modern people deal with: loneliness and pain, sexuality and violence, life and death – the needs that come from existing. They also shared a muse, painter Isabel Rawsthorne. She was a model to both artists, and some recount she even went to bed with both of them. They interpreted Rawsthorne in their own individual way: viewed from different distances by Giacometti and staged by Bacon as a furious ‘femme fatale’.
The British painter and the Swiss sculptor got to know each other personally through their muse in the early 1960s. In 1965 they’d become so good friends that Bacon visited Giacometti at the Tate Gallery in London while he was setting up his exhibition there. A series of photographs by English photographer Graham Keen documents this encounter and shows both artists in a stimulating dialogue. More than half a century later, these two important artists meet again in the Fondation Beyeler and the above-mentioned double portrait of Rawsthorne marks the beginning of the exhibition.
While the expressive and obsessive-extrovert nature of Bacon’s portraits immediately captivates the viewer, Giacometti’s portraits are characterised by a restraint that is no less hypnotic: these persons also illustrate a situation that exemplifies coercion, they seem to embody the pressure the artist exerted on his models by forcing them to sit absolutely still. This pressure also turned against Giacometti, who – cursing his supposed inaptitude at painting – began the canvases over and over again until the portraits were radically reduced and extremely condensed.
Giacometti’s continued failure was part and parcel of who he was. If he hadn’t felt he was constantly failing, he might have lacked the impulse to continue. For him, work also seems to have been, to a large extent, the search for personal transgression, as if he wanted to punish himself for his artistic existence. This probably also applied to Bacon, even if in his pictures the aggression seems to be directed mainly outwards.
With Alberto Giacometti and Francis Bacon, the Fondation Beyeler showcases two outstanding protagonists of modernism painting until 2 September 2018, friends and rivals alike, whose creative visions have strongly influenced art from the second half of the 20th century until today.
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