There's a decidedly contemporary element to the way Alberto Giacometti's figures relate to each other in his sculpture groups. They form constellations like the ones you might find in a school star atlas, or on a soccer coach's tactics chart. That is the fascinating feeling you're left with after a visit to the ambitious new exhibition devoted to the Swiss artist (1901-1966) at the Fundación Mapfre's Recoletos headquarters in Madrid.
Giacometti. Terrenos de juego aims to topple the widespread and monotonous interpretation of the artist's characteristically slender figures as bronze expressions of the loneliness of the modern human condition. "It is about showing that for him sculpture did not subtract, but rather had something to add, given the relationship between itself and the viewer," says Fundación Mapfre's exhibitions director, Pablo Jiménez Burillo. "Thus it is a totally new approach to his work."
The show kicks off with his surrealist models, which take the form of fanciful boardgames, as in Objet désagréable à jeter, or two-headed constructions, such as Homme et Femme. They are from the time when Giacometti belonged to the Paris group. Before that he was an artist who subverted the forms of traditional sculpture by representing heads as geometrical shapes of solid metal.
The show also features a recreation of his legendary studio at 46, rue Hippolyte-Maindron in a semicircular room. When Giacometti entered through the door of that legendary spot of 20th-century art "the whole studio vibrated," wrote Jean Genet.
Other famous friends such as Man Ray, Dora Maar and Henri Cartier-Bresson faithfully photographed the sculptor and his world and the carefully arranged images reinforce the idea of the show and of his workshop as a huge stage where the artworks interact with the ubiquitous and forceful presence of their creator.
The final room of the exhibition is devoted to Giacometti's last dream: a partial recreation of the group of figures he planned for the square of the Chase Manhattan Bank building in New York that comprises L'Homme qui marche I and Grande femme debout II. In the end he never completed the group, nor did he get to carry out his hare-brained idea of erecting a 7.8-meter-high bronze woman in the New York public space.