Did Alberto Giacometti and Yves Klein know each other when they lived within a mile of each other in the artistic enclave of Montparnasse in Paris, Klein having returned to Paris in 1946 and Klein moving there nine years later. Did the two artists meet for coffee or drinks in a local café, although Giacometti was almost thirty years older than Klein? They are both in the collection of Peggy Guggenheim so probably were known to her and Giacometti had long–term friendships with several artists in Montparnasse including the photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson, which was the subject of an exhibition at the Henri Cartier-Bresson Foundation in 2005.
Striding purposefully across the white, light-infused gallery space, Giacometti’s bronze “L’homme qui marche I” marches in front of and across to the naturalistic blue figures of Klein’s Anthropometry series, with his elongated companions joining him in a room of only these two colours – bronze and blue.
In Grosvenor Hill Mayfair, the Gagosian Gallery is holding another exhibition of two artists who were contemporaries, following on from the exhibition on Andy Warhol and Richard Avalon in Britannia Street earlier in the year. Fifty years after Giacometti’s death, his work is shown together with that of Yves Klein, the first time the two artists have been brought together. While their work is stylistically different, their two contrasting styles are described by the curator Joachim Pissarro as individual responses to the aftermath of the Second World War: “Both artists, rather than creating something that reflects the chaos, chose to rise above it, transforming it and deciphering it into elegant lyrical matter”.
Pissarro has carefully placed the works so that Giacometti’s sculptures stand alongside Klein’s paintings in a way that enables the viewer to ponder on similarities and on contrasts, the bronze sculptures being counterpoint to three different phases of Klein’s paintings, and he uses the gallery spaces to full advantage, including a display case of smaller pieces. In the second gallery, things become more colourful as Klein’s blue Anthropometry series gives way to his free-flowing Fire Paintings and, in marked contrast, a rainbow of colour with a wall of Monochromes. In the display case, there is one work where the artists almost overlap; in “Femme debout Certificate No 1569)” Giacometti draws a figure in blue ballpoint on a page ripped from a magazine.
An excellent and well-curated exhibition. From here, it is tempting to leap into a taxi to Liverpool Street Station for the train to Norwich and the retrospective of Giacometti’s work at the Sainsbury Centre for the Visual Arts which focuses on his impact in Britain, including work by significant British artists such as Francis Bacon, Lucian Freud, Henry Moore and Elizabeth Frink.