Casting shadows: encounters with Giacometti

13 Dec 2023

Image © Alessandro Brotto

Alberto Giacometti (1901–1966) was a giant of 20th-century sculptural art. The Swiss-born artist settled in Paris, where he produced many of his highly influential works during the tumultuous period spanning the 1920s–1960s.

His idiosyncratic signature style is instantly recognizable: often focused on spindly human and animal figures, Giacometti created many haunting works, including famous pieces such as Man Pointing, City Square I, The Chariot and The Walking Man. His sculptures are ethereal, wintry explorations of figure and form that became less surrealist, but physically larger and thinner, after the Second World War.

In 2018 the Institut Giacometti – home of the artist’s collection and custodians of his legacy – enlisted Goppion’s services. This project involved the design and built of a large glass panel, to protect a painstaking reconstruction of Giacometti's workshop assembled within the Institut’s beautiful art-deco building. The angular panel, comprising two types of glass, was partly constructed along a staircase that allows visitors to view the workshop in its entirety.

The other side required a ‘Pull & Slide’ opening system to allow Museum staff ready access. It was aesthetically imperative that we created something that was fully secure but also both accessible and completely invisible – maintaining the integrity of this unique view that transports us into Giacometti’s bygone workspace.

We were reminded of our brush with Giacometti more recently, in 2020. This time we worked on a project with the Museum Guarnacci, in Volterra, Italy. Among the Museum display cases we produced for this venerable European institution was a protective showcase for a truly iconic piece of Etruscan votive art – the Ombra della sera (meaning ‘Shadow of the evening’).

Image © Mario Ciampi

This bronze statue was made in the third century BCE, and it’s not hard to see why it is often said to have been a major influence on Giacometti's style. Elongated and ethereal, it immediately reminds the onlooker of the shadow cast by a human figure at sunset.

Working face-to-face with this precious ancient object, we were reminded once more of our brush with the great sculptor, and how his life’s work had been shaped by a fascination with ancient and tribal art, and the perceptions they draw from deep within us. It is probably this evocation of otherness that makes Giacometti's work so memorably enigmatic: once seen, never forgotten.

Image © Mario Ciampi