Giacometti, Tate Modern

Adult Entry: £18.50
Nearest Tube: Blackfriars, District & Circle Lines


It is very difficult to review the exhibition of an artist that you love. There is constant temptation to wax lyrical about the art itself rather than the exhibition, making an interesting essay but a poor review. I have tried to ignore the Giacometti’s ability to contain such potential energy with his static figures, or comment on the unrefined emotion straining from every angle of those unbearably human faces. Putting my (admittedly first-world) struggles to one side, imagine how high I set my expectations upon hearing of this Giacometti blockbuster exhibition at the Tate Modern. 

For an artist who excelled in immediate impressions, it is fitting that this exhibition has one of the best opening rooms of any show I have seen at the Tate. Visitors are greeted by a tight formation of severed heads presenting an interrogative 3D map of the range and development of Giacometti’s skill. The labels in this room are imperfect, but the effect is key here, and the most information is gained by the context within the group. It is also effectively placed to revise any erroneous expectations, boldly and silently stating that this exhibition is more than a hall-of-fame line-up of his later thin figures. Expectations and context effectively set, I moved on.

Room 2 takes you back to Giacometti’s earlier sculptural work. The main row of objects are set back on a deep shelf, an excellent decision which both gives the objects room to breathe and also removes the need for a protective rail. I wholly support any initiative which reduces or removes the alienating barriers, cases, and fences that cage objects. Many of these objects are conceptual and more than a little reminiscent of Henry Moore’s work. Keep an eye out for the pithily titled ‘Disagreeable Object’.

Moving on through the exhibition makes clear one of its strongest features; the confidence to fill some rooms and leave others relatively bare. The minimal selection in Room 4 encourages closer investigation of each piece, setting the perfect tone for a space which focuses on some of Giacometti’s inspirations. This policy does have its flaws however. The inspiration for one of the statues is an African Dan spoon, however they have decided not to display an example to keep the object numbers low. To those unfamiliar with Dan cultural styles (so, most people), the connection fails to land.

There are quite a few rooms in this exhibition, and they are all used well to explore one particular aspect of Giacometti’s creative process. They provide a cohesive story of who Giacometti was, and how he got there. The objects are treated with respect and given space to breathe. An infrequent annoyance is when groups of large figures are roped-off as one section, denying us the chance to explore all sides of these intricate works. This feels all the more jarring because of the other more subtle approaches mentioned above. I am willing to forgive this however, because of the veneration in which the Tate clearly holds these objects.

As much as I would love to leave this as a purely positive review, I must comment on the lamentable label positioning throughout the exhibition. I am convinced they simply gave the labels to a hyperactive 5 year old and then let her loose in the gallery. Room 1 adopts a ‘nearest wall to the object’ approach, which is made uniquely unhelpful by the vinyl sticker labels that they’ve used. With nothing standing proud of the wall, and a modest font size, I found myself, like many others, blundering around the space until the light caught a label to indicate its location. Attempting to then connect them back to their object, especially the all-similarly-titled expressionist pieces, is just silly. Other rooms are equally nonsensical; Room 7 chooses to clump labels at the beginning of a very long showcase, utterly ruining visitor flow. I’m convinced that one of the later rooms doesn’t even bother with labels at all. This nonsense is redeemed slightly by my being present upon entry with a little booklet containing a copy of each room’s wall text. This little booklet very effectively removed the need for large crowds to, well, crowd around the text panels, helping to reduce bottlenecks.

Giacometti’s work seems made for London. The gaunt striding figures, phantasmal grey men and women who show such dynamism without moving a muscle, succinctly capture the isolating bustle of the city. Giacometti is an artist whose journey shows everything I love about art; self-discovery,  stylistic exploration, emotional exposure; and above all, entertainment. This exhibition towered over my expectations, and strode on without a backwards look.


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