When an artist of international acclaim assembles a portfolio to best represent their creative journey over a decades-long career, it’s worthy of close examination.

On exhibition now through June 5 at the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art is precisely such a collection, “Summing it Up at The End: Alberto Giacometti’s 45 Drawings Portfolio.”

The works were selected by Giacometti in 1963, only three years prior to his death and in collaboration with print publisher and art historian, Lamberto Vitali. Forty-five drawings and sketches are displayed chronologically and span nearly 50 years of his career.

Swiss-born Giacometti was a widely regarded Existentialist/Surrealist modern artist – though he eschewed those categorizations and never proclaimed affiliation with either movement. The conservatively trained painter/sculptor/draftsman/designer/printmaker was clearly fascinated by the human form and its representation in space. He’s perhaps best known for his blade-thin elongated sculptures of men and women, often frozen in forward step walking in an impossible linear posture, three-dimensional, exaggerated human shadows cast from a horizon-hugging sun.

“Giacometti is well known for that signature thin, pinched etiolated form,” Jennifer Sudul Edwards, Bechtler Museum curator, said. “He very much contributed to the visual vernacular that came out of the post-WW II period. These 45 drawings put together over nine months trace his development as an artist in very revealing and very personal ways. The collection allows viewers to follow his development over the course of his career from a conventional academic student into this revolutionary avant garde artist.”

The works are displayed through the rarely used, yet precise photogravure technique, a negative transfer process etching fine details into a metal plate used to create an intaglio print. Here we see his relationship with line, space and form converge and evolve.

“Lunare” (1935) is particularly striking. A drifting, disembodied female head floats amidst impossibly fine-lined cross hatch. A trapezoidal geometric form is another head – albeit a surreal one – a counterbalance to its partner in the frame.

“Ritratto di Diego” (1947) is a bold charcoal bust of his brother. The elongated head, drawn in four-fifths profile, is simple and direct yet evokes an intensity and bearing that commands one’s attention.

"Ritratto di Diego
“Ritratto di Diego”

Giacometti’s “Annette” series (1962) is a masterful progression illuminating Giacometti’s obsession with form, space and the human head, especially the eyes. In this series of three portraits, we see what he saw and follow his construction as he drew from the inside of the face outward.

With this exhibition, Edwards continues her curatorial tear. Since her arrival in 2015, she’s tapped into the oeuvre of the Bechtler collection bringing relevance, topicality and connection to Charlotte in ways that make each visit to the terra cotta-skinned jewel box of a museum fresh and anew with discovery.

Pairing this intimate show with the much larger and more expansive “Bechtler Collection: Relaunched and Rediscovered” fourth-floor gallery exhibition (including works by Miro, Valenti, Chillida, Picasso, Le Corbusier, Francis, Warhol, Johns, Francis and others) exposes both the breadth and depth of the material she has to work with and showcases the special artist/family relationships characteristic of the Bechtler collection.

Photos: Courtesy of Bechtler Museum of Modern Art

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