Matter/Giacometti

An exhibition at Rare showcases Herbert Matter's photographs of Giacometti

“Matter/Giacometti” is a new exhibit at Rare gallery in New York showcasing Herbert Matter’s photographs of the acclaimed sculptor Alberto Giacometti and his work. Rare will host an opening reception this Thursday, January 15th from 6PM – 8PM and the collection will remain on view until Saturday, February 7th. A selection of Matter’s prints will be made available for purchase through the gallery.

"Giacometti" by Mercedes Matter. Featuring photographs of Alberto Giacometti photographed by Herbert Matter. Abrams, New York 1987.

Over the course of twenty-five years, Herbert Matter—a former design consultant at Knoll—collated his photographs of Giacometti working in his studio into a single, illustrated volume, the production of which Matter personally oversaw up until his death in 1984. This is the first time that the book itself has been at the center of a show on either of the two Swiss-born artists.

"Giacometti" by Mercedes Matter. Featuring photographs of Alberto Giacometti photographed by Herbert Matter. Abrams, New York 1987.

Matter first met Giacometti in 1950 through a mutual friend, Pierre Matisse, who arranged both Matter and Giacometti’s first shows in 1943 and 1945, respectively. Matter had a great many ties to the art world having studied under Fernand Léger—the French cubist painter—in Paris before moving to New York in 1936 to pursue a career in graphic design. In the states, he befriended other eminent artists, including Alexander Calder, about whom he subsequently made a film.

By the time he met Giacometti, Matter was working as a freelance designer for Harper’s Bazaar, Vogue, and Saks Fifth Avenue, in addition to holding a tenured position at Knoll as a design consultant. In 1955, The Guggenheim Museum asked Matter to design brochures and promotional materials for an upcoming exhibition of Giacometti’s work, which cemented their friendship. Matter began photographing the sculptor and painter at work in his studio in 1960.

"Giacometti" by Mercedes Matter. Featuring photographs of Alberto Giacometti photographed by Herbert Matter. Abrams, New York 1987.

Informed by the Bauhaus and Russian Constructivist theories of graphic composition, Matter made use of exaggerated angles and high-contrast lighting to capture the most dramatic elements of Giacometti’s work. The visually resplendent images are of singular importance, providing documentation of Giacometti's fastidious and idiosyncratic process. However, Matter's book can also be seen as piece of art in its own right, lending perspective to Giacometti's oeuvre. At this particular time in their careers, both Giacometti and Matter had shifted their attention to the human face. By focusing on Giacometti’s distinctive countenance in his photographs, Matter draws a parallel between the artist’s scraggly appearance and the tortured physiognomy of his sculptural counterparts.

"Giacometti" by Mercedes Matter. Featuring photographs of Alberto Giacometti photographed by Herbert Matter. Abrams, New York 1987.

It was during the Second World War, when Giacometti was residing in Switzerland, that he began experimenting with the elongated, emaciated sculptural figures he’s now best known for. This marked a dramatic departure from the surrealistic influence of Jean Cocteau and André Breton, with whom he’d fraternized early in his career. At the time, Giacometti’s muse was existentialism, having formed close friendships with the two presiding members of the movement, Samuel Beckett and Jean-Paul Sartre. This marked the most prolific period of his life, as he was producing lithographs for Derrière le Miroir and illustrated works for a long list of French writers in addition to his own sculptural and artistic creations.

To view the works and learn more about Matter and Giacometti’s friendship, be sure to visit the exhibition at Rare: 17 West 54th Street New York, NY 10019.