Critics’ Picks

Alberto Giacometti, Homme et femme (Man and Woman), 1928–29, bronze, 15 1/2 x 15 1/2 x 6 1/2".

Alberto Giacometti, Homme et femme (Man and Woman), 1928–29, bronze, 15 1/2 x 15 1/2 x 6 1/2".


“Giacometti/Sade, Cruel objects of desire”

Fondation Giacometti
5, Rue Victor Schoelcher
November 21, 2019–February 16, 2020

Nestled within Giacometti Institute’s tony townhouse is a small jewel of an exhibition of about sixty works that charts the impact of Marquis de Sade’s writings on Alberto Giacometti, who infused his sculptures and works on paper with a perversely erotic jolt—see, for the first time, Esquisse de femme et homme brandissant une épée (Sketch of Woman and Man Brandishing a Sword), ca. 1951, a furious pencil drawing in which a female nude, dorsal recumbent, is accompanied by a man brandishing a priapic sword. The survey, curated by Christian Alandete and Serena Bucalo-Mussely, can be considered a belated cherry atop the larger 2015 overviews of Sade’s influence—“Sade: Attacking the Sun” at Musée d’Orsay and “Manuscript of The Hundred Twenty Days of Sodom” at Musée des Lettres et Manuscrits—that feted the libertine philosopher and self-proclaimed pedophile, rapist, and torturer. The institute afforded a rare regard of the achingly beautiful, thinly handwritten 1785 manuscript of Les 120 journées de Sodome ou l’école du libertinage (The 120 Days of Sodom, or the School of Libertinage) that Sade penned on a continuous, twelve-meter-long scroll found hidden in his cell walls at the Bastille. The debauched novel, along with many others by Sade, have inspired countless thinkers, from Apollinaire to Simone Weil.

Despite the vile predatoriness of Sade’s sexual politics, his influence on Giacometti—which deepened in 1933, when the Swiss artist, grieving his father, engrossed himself in Sade’s bibliography at the suggestion of André Breton—is something to savor. The affinity crescendos in the spiky black sculptures Homme et femme (Man and Woman), 1928–29, and Objet désagréable (Disagreeable Object), 1931, works made during the height of Giacometti’s Surrealist participation and that embrace ambiguity in their evocations of impending penetration. The former offers up a disjointed tableau of geometric copulation, while the latter, a mace-like wooden phallus, shifts into a more intimate register, an objet poised between usefulness and uselessness, seduction and terror.