Fresh from pairing up Richard Avedon with Andy Warhol at their St. Pancras outpost, Gagosian London have opened a new show at their Mayfair gallery that showcases a selection of works from Alberto Giacometti alongside paintings from Yves Klein.
The common ground between Avedon and Warhol was obvious, but the link between Klein and Giacometti is more tenuous. In the 1950s and early 1960s, Klein and Giacometti lived and worked within a mile of each other in Paris. Much of their work was also impacted, and made in response to, the destruction of World War Two.
But their responses were very different and there is an uneasy tension in this exhibition. The anxiety and gravitas in Alberto Giacometti’s bronzes and portraits contrasts uncomfortably with the lightness and gaiety in Yves Klein’s paintings. There’s compare and contrast; and then there is just plain discomfort, and too often it felt uncomfortable having such vastly different artists on show together.
Now it’s probably no surprise that Yves Klein is an artist whose work can sometimes rub me the wrong way. After all, this was a man who used naked women as paintbrushes – literally. Perhaps I would credit him with challenging societal norms if he’d used women with a variety of body shapes, across many different ages. But no. The women Klein got to strip naked and cover themselves with paint before he pressed them onto canvases were all slim and nubile young women.
Nevertheless, that Klein blue – that gorgeous deep blue hue that Klein created – really is a sumptuously intense colour. And though his method may be unsettling, the resulting Anthropometry works have an uplifting energy. There’s such a sense of the human form being freed in his paintings.
So all of this positivity makes for an odd companion for Alberto Giacometti. His instantly familiar sculptures – the painfully thin figures, their raised texture the result of constant nervous reworking – seem even more traumatised. And the upbeat energy from the Kleins seems to accentuate their emotional isolation.
The collection on display, though, is impressive. There are twenty-five sculptures from Giacometti on display, including the glorious L’homme qui marche (which you can see in the first photo). And there’s a similar volume of works from Klein – his burnt cardboard particularly eye-catching.
Whether the two make for an effective joint exhibition is questionable but there is much here that is worth a visit. And considering that admission is free, you have nothing to lose and much to gain.
Gagosian Gallery, 20 Grosvenor Hill, London to June 11, 2016
All photos by Victoria Sadler