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Model for a Square, c. 1931–32

Alberto Giacometti (1901-1966)

19.4 x 31.4 x 22.5 cm 
Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice. Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, New York 
© Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice, Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation 
© Succession Alberto Giacometti (Fondation Alberto et Annette Giacometti, París 

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Unpleasant objects with allusions to pleasure and pain. Functional objects, like an ashtray as a pocket-sized tray that cannot hold anything. The idea of constructing a square that we will never be able to set foot on. This impossible square, laid out on a board with geometric forms that are filled, empty, protruding, concave and zigzagging, is one of the key sculptural works to develop an understanding of the creative universe of Alberto Giacometti. The work is not saying anything clearly; it is not guaranteeing that any specific activity may take place in the square. Its very lack of meaning is what justifies its existence. Giacometti, a profoundly liberated soul, was officially considered the sculptor of the Surrealist movement. 


This movement, which emerged in Paris during the 1920s, proclaimed that dreams and automatic writing were among the key routes to liberating the psyche. André Breton, in the Surrealist Manifesto, defined the idea in the following terms: 


Pure psychic automatism that is used to express, whether verbally, in writing or by any other means, the true functioning of thought. It is a dictation of thought, without the regulatory intervention of reason, far removed from any aesthetic or moral preoccupations. 


From the beginning, Giacometti questioned the very nature of sculpture as a vehicle for narratives that could be understood in a single glance, and queried the discipline’s limits and specificity. In early 1927 he analyzed his own creations, and took no pleasure in affirming that, without a doubt, an abstract sculpture could not be an end in itself and that it was necessary to progress further, albeit with a great deal of prudence. He was insistent in his conviction that the purpose of sculpture was to represent life, to be life, and not to represent life through any other means.