Tate Modern’s latest offerings suggest the great institution’s paralysis by bureaucracy. The show is comprehensive, meticulously well-researched but, ultimately, too hesitant to assert a viewpoint. Those new to the artist will likely leave with a clear impression of the artist’s sculptural spectrum. Those not new to the artist will leave unexcited by a lack of curatorial argument.
You are greeted by a gathering of busts on pedestals. The white, monolithic blocks emphasize the varying forms of the sculpted faces on display, which are roughly ordered by level of abstraction. Bloated, uncreased faces composed of seamless features and solid, pale colours stagger and deflate, giving way to the narrowed, darkened forms whose immediate tactility have become the artist’s signature style. Like shadows of happier, more substantial forms, the whittled busts on the furthest plinths linger in the viewer’s eye line. The decision to group these busts within the centre of the room, so that the onlooker is forced to prowl around them, works to pacify the spectator. A crowd of decapitations, the works – ranging in medium from painted plaster to bronze – cannot be walked around individually, denying our eye contact with each head. Much like Giacometti’s experience of his friend, Isabel, walking away from him down a darkened street, the grid in which these busts are locked prevents us from closing our distance or dictating the space.
Unfortunately, the questions raised through the strength of this initial display falters as the exhibitions continues. The power of the Tate as an artistic institution becomes clear simply through the astonishing selection of artworks available for viewing. Seminal sculptures including Invisible Object (Hands Holding the Void) (1934) and Disagreeable Object (1931) are shown alongside the ‘Women of Venice’, a series which has not been exhibited together in sixty years. The singular combination of these works invites original commentary. However, the potential for fresh arguments on Giacometti’s work, for new angles of perspective to be explored, feels wasted. The mint green walls which cocoon the show form an impassive backdrop reflective of an ultimately unassertive curation.
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