Sunteți pe pagina 1din 46
The Originality of the Avant-Garde and Other Modernist Myths Rosalind K. Krauss The MI T
The Originality of the Avant-Garde
and Other Modernist
K. Krauss
The MI T
CJuinbridgo, Massaclmseds
London, En.i;lan(l
No More Play I 1 I T o ticscribc Giacometti' s Invisible. Object as "a
No More Play
T o
ticscribc Giacometti' s
as "a youn ^
vvidi knee s half-
boni a s (hougli
olVering hcrseirt o ih c beholde r
( a pos e suggeste d lo th e sculpto r
by the attitude once assunicd by a little girl in his native land)" is to participate
in the work of rewriting his beginnings that Giacomctti i)in)soir started in the
But thi s cooperatio n o n
the par t ol" Miche l
Leiris , a s h e constructe d
th e
text fo r th e sculptor s 19r)l exhibitio n catalogue , placin g Invisible Object in
th e
service of a siniple transparency to the o!)servable world, is an cxj)ression of
the rnpiiires and realignments that were transforming postwar Paris.' For this
description is a slap in the face of Andre Breton.
W h o can Ibrgct the magisterial example through which Bretciii opens the
worl d of L'amour fou ont o th e strang e bu t impressiv e working s of objectiv e
chancc? Giacomctti and Brirton go to the Ilea market where cach one is "claimed"
by a seemingly useless object that each is impelled, as though agaitist his will,
to buy. Giacornctti's purchase was a sharply angled, warriorlikc mask, for
which neither he nor Breton could determine the exact, original use.^ '
However, the point of the example was not the object's initial but its ultimate
destination. This , according to Breton's account, was in the service of resolving
th e conflicts paralyzin g Giacomctt i as h e attempte<I to brin g part s of
Object int o focus , 'rh e head , particularly , ha d resisted integratio n with
th e rest
of the work, atul it was to this problem that the mask seemed ro address itself.
"The purpose of tlie mask's intervention," wrote Breton, "seemed to be to help
Giacomctti overcome his indecision in this rcgar<l. W e should note that here
the finding of the object strictly .serves the same function as that
of a dream , in
that it frees the individual from paraly/.ing emotional scruples, comforts him,
and makes him understand that the obstacle he thought was insurmountable
has been cleared."* In Breton's account, then, the world of real objects has I
Mifhi' l lA'iris, "INcrrc s p<mr uii Allrerl o (liatomciii, " Bmns,
Paris ,
Mercur c <lc Franci' ,
1966, p. 149.
Hmoi) ,
Gnllimard ,
pp .
as "Inequation d c robjet." Dotummti
I (Jun e
JM4) ,
Bmuii ,
44 Modcrnisl Mvihs Athrrlo CfiatomeUi. Invisibl e Objcci . 1934. Piaster, 60 inchts high. Photograpk
Invisibl e
Objcci .
by Dora
iu A ndte
I -'Aincii j i
Iro n
Mask .
by Man
in Andre
L'Ajnou r
fou ,
Pigure. Bougainville, Solomon Islands.
wood, ()9 inches hi^h. Museum
;\'o More Play 45 nothing to do witli an ar( of niiincsis; the objccts arc
;\'o More Play
nothing to do witli an ar( of niiincsis; the objccts arc in no sense models for the
sculptor's work. Th e world is instead a great reserve against which to trace
the workings of the uncortscious, the litmus ])apcr that makes it possible to read
the corrosiveness of desire. Without the mask, the dream, (Jiacometii could no
mor e hav e finished Invisible Object tha n Breton , withou t his ow n trouvailU fro m
the market , coul d
hav e entere d
the written
world ol' L'amour
Btit the little Swiss girl of Giacometti's later recollection (and Leiris's ac-
count) has nothing lo do with this key example of the marvelous and objective
chance. By serving as a dii'ect, real-world model for a work of an , the little
Swiss girl withdraw s Invisible Object fro m the orbit
of surrealis m an d places it in
the postwar realm of Giacometti's studio, as he notoriously strained, month
after month, through trial and retrial, to catch the likeness of the model posed
in front of him.^ Recontextualiziitg the work, setting it in relation to a new
group of friends and allies, like Sartre and Genet, -Leiris's account draws it
closer to the problemati c of The Phenomenology ojPerception an d furthe r from that
o f Z/W vases communicants.'^
This a-chronicity is, of course, unacceptable to the historian, and thus
Reinhold Hohl, the leading scholar of Giacometti's work, does not even men-
tion the memory of the Swiss child in discussing this masterpiece of the
sculptor's prewar career. But then Breton's .story
is, for Hohl, equally suspect.
"Contrary to Breton's acccjuni," he beginSi.fthal a mysterious object found at
the flea market (it was, in fact, the prototype for an iron protection mask
designed by the French Medical Corps in the First World War ) had helped the
artist to lind his forms, Giacomctti liad borrowed the stylized humait shapes
from a Solomo n Islands Seated Statiu oJa
Deceased Woman which he had seen at
the Ethnological Museu m in Basel, and had combined them with other
elements of Oceanic art, such as the bird-like demon of death.
Despite the certainty of his tone, Hohl's evidence for this connection is
both .scant and indirect. In 1963 Giacomctti had spoken to an interviewer of a
ix'constructed Oceanic house installed in the Basel Museum. ' Since the Solotnon
Islands figure ha d been displayed in the sam e gallery early in the 1930s, whe n
it was brought back to Switzerland from the expedition that had plucked it
from the South Seas, 1 lohl could at least assume (Giacometti's knowledge of the
4. On e of these aiders wrote a detailed account of (his process. obser%-ing thai 'iniL^niuch as ii
WU.S chci) c.xprcsscd in (he purticulur acts ol puiiKing and |>i)sing, (here were elements oi (he sado-
masofhjs(ir in otir rcl.i(ion.ship
fahhouRhl i( would have been difRcuU to deternnnc exactly
wha( ucis were sadia(ic and/o r niusocliistic on whose side and why."Janir s Lord , A GiatmntHi I*or-
trait. Ne w Y<»rk, Th e Museu m of Mode m An , 1%.'), p . 36.
See , Siinonc d c Bcauvoir,
La Force de t'A^e,
Paris, Gullitnard ,
liJtiO, pp .
Reinhol d
Hohl , Aibfrto
Ne w York, Th e Solomon Guj^j^enheim Museum ,
22. See also Hohl , Alberto (Jiaionuiti,
London , 'Hiuines an d
1972, p .
Jea n Clay ,
Visagts dt VAri modrmt,
Pari.s, Editions Rcnrontre ,
1969, p.
Modcrnisl Mydis 46 Alberto OuicomUi. The C:cHi|)lf. 1926. Bronze, 25 inches hif<h. The Alberto
;\'o More Play 47 objccl." Th r detail that lends the greatest credence to Hohl's
;\'o More Play
objccl." Th r detail that lends the greatest credence to Hohl's claim is the
schematic, railinglike support for the half-seated figure, a construction that is
entirely characteristic of this type of statue and is not commonly found else-
where.' Since part of the power of the pose of Ciiacometti's sculpture comes
from the enigmatic relation between the half-kneeling posture and the struc-
tural element s thai seem to contai n it —a Hat plate against the shins in fron t of
the figure and the peculiar scaffolding behind it — atid since this construction is
not "natural" to a model posed in a studio, the probability was always that its
source was in another work of art. Because of the railing, because of the
posture , becaus e of the forwar d ju t of tlu? hea d an d the articulatioti
of the
breasts, the Solomon Islands statue of Hohl's nomination seems a logical can-
Behind Hohl's assertion of this statu e as the source for
Invisible Object ther e
is a whole reservoir of knowledge about the role of primitive art in the sculptor's
work in ihe years leading up to 1934. Primitivism had been central to Giaco-
metti's success in freeing himself not only from the classical sculptural tradition
but also from tlic cubist constructions that had appeared in the early 1920s as
ihe <inly logical alternaiive. ^uit e precisely, Giacometti's work mature d as a
function of its a!>ility to itjvent in very close relation lo primitive sources. Jus t
tw o years afte r leaving Bourdclle's studi o he wa s able lo execut e
a figure o n a
major scale that was "his {m'n" by virtue of belonging, quite profoundly, lo
African tribal art.
TUc slalut: ramc
lo tlir
from ihc
1929-30 expedition
of Felix Spciscr and
p. 21. In 1930 ihc a n of i lie Solomon Islands wa s ihc focus of a n essay
llial deiill widi du* visual an d telixi<uis signiikanc c (JI* il.s prmluction. See l.4>uis
Clarke ,
dus lies Salomon, " Ihcumenls
no .
9. Sec. for example,
the duka figure in ihe Briii5h
1944, (>e.2
10. Hoh l publishes the Solomo n Islands ti^ir e in his monograp h (p. 291, ftgure 30) without
the "railing." aithcniKh this xiruciutal sup|K)R( ap|>earc<l in ilie 1933 publicalion of the HUMU
Kihnolo(^i(;a l Museum . (Subsequen t t o thi » {lublicatioi t <if ih e figure , th e suppor t bar& wer e lost. )
InsU'iid Tlohl |H>sUilales du- iiiHuenre of Kgyplian slaluary for die archiu-clural cleinrnl.s /niisi-
htf Olfjaf (H<)hl, 1972, p . 300, fn . 34). Willia m Rubi n has .suggested
Sepik Rive r spirit figures as
annihe r |Kissiblc Mturrr lor the sinicttirc beliind the wnnian^N U>dy in Giacometti's scuipiure. On e
of these, now ui the Rietbcrg Museum (R.Me 104), was in that part of ihe van der Hcydt collec-
tion <lc]>osited in the Mi»e c de 1*1 loinine in 1933 aixl plac ed on display, wher e Giacomen i ma y
have .veil it, (I owe this intbrmaiion lo Philippe Peltier, who has generously shared with me his
knowlcdK e o f th e disjxjsitio n o f th e grea t lullerlion s o f Oceani c »r l <)f ihi s j>eriod. ) Huwevcr , a
verlical structure ihai either Hanks the body or appear s (o contain it is also found in Ncxv Ireland
malian^^an. a n Oceani c type .idmired an d colle<'le<l by ihe MirrcaliM.s. Itiit neillier (he Sepik River
nor the New Ireland Mulptures rclale morphologirally lo the smoolh-surfaced, gcncralize<l
anatomica l .style of
Invuif}lf Object. Kvan Maure r suggests die presence of ihe (3ai<»line Islands
figuial tyjie on the basis of slylistic similarity and liccause one of Giacometti's drawings after
(Oceanic objects represenis such a
.See Maurer . "In of ihe Myih : A n Inve.xiigalitni
of die Relationships belween Surrealism and Primitivism," unpublishc<i Ph.D. dissertation.
University of Pennsylvania . 1974, p. 31B, Tiie Claroline I-slands figural ly)>c,
assum e tlie l>eni-knee jKtsiliun that is so Ibrceful in Invisible Object, no r is it
siruclural adjunct.
liowever. dijes noi
sopporie d by an y
4S Modcrnis l Myih s FRMAND Leger. SkeUh Jot Creatio n d u M(»nd<-. Publishffl
Modcrnis l
Myih s
Creatio n
d u
in L'Espril
nouvrau , no.
Tli c 1927 Spoon Woman goes beyon d tlie applied use of the modis h style negre
dial was influencing everything from Art Dcco furniture to I.eger's theatrical
curtain s in th e mid-1920 s an d whic h Giacomctt i ha d employe d in his Tht Couple
the year before. " Th e decorative application of iribalizing detail to a stylized,
planar background is the formal strategy of what tnight be called Black Deco; it
is this on e finds in
The Couple, givin g th e wor k its generalize d characte r of the
Africo-primitive in the absence of any specific sculptural source.Bu t moving
toward a much deeper level of structural assimilation of African carved objects.
Spoon Woman acknowledge s th e metapho r frequentl y pu t in place by Da n grai n
scoops, in which the bowl of the implement is likened lo the lower part of the
female seen as a receptacle, or pouch, or cavity.'^ Giacoitielli may have seen
these spoons in the years before 1927. Six spoons from Paul Guillaume's collec-
tion were included in the massive exhibition of African and Occanic art at the
Musee des Arts Decoratifs in the winter of 1923-24.'* By taking the metaphor
and inverting it, so that spoon is like a woman" becomcs "a woma n is like a
spoon," Giacomctti was able to intensify the idea, and to universalize it by
11. Hpoon h'oman is convcniiuiudl y iissigncd lo 1926 rxrrp t iit I lohlS inoiiugrap h whcic , lur
reasons not argued, it Is daied 1927. In following Hohl's dating, I am proposing the greater
siyli&tic maturity , accomplishment , an d thu s later (late af Spoon H'oman, precisely o n
the basis of
Giacometti' s developin g relationshi p t o primitiv e sources, '/he Coupte, o n the othe r hand , seem s
lo m e lo p;irticip<ue in the slyli»tlions a la nitf^te that wer e widesprea d by die earl y 1920$. 'Di e
sketches published , for example , by L<^gcr in L'Eiprit Nouveau, no . Ifl (1924) a s "personnages " for
IjO Citation du mondt, manifes t die sam e generalise d overall shupcb (trapezoidal , oval ) for the
body-a&-a*whole, and use the same types of ornamental detail for the indications of anatomy,
Sculpiort like .Vliklos and I
within the context of Art Dcco, were producing s(y)i7«d
'^African" masks and fi{^irative sculpture.*: by 1925. Th e designer Pierre Legrain was producing
elegant furnitur e fu r clients suc h as Jacque s Doucel , mcKlele<l directly o n seats an d stools fnu n
tribal Africa . Thes e %vere widely publisheti durin g the
period , cf; Art el Deration I (1924) , 182. It
is this siyliising attitud e towar d the primitiv e sourc e that The CoupU |>Mriicipatcs in but Spoon
IVoman renounces .
;\'o More Play 4 9 gcncrali/iiig dx* fornis of (he soriietiincs naiuralisiic African carvings (oward
;\'o More Play
4 9
gcncrali/iiig dx* fornis of (he soriietiincs naiuralisiic African carvings (oward a
more prismatic abstraction. In forcing on the Dan model the image of the
woman who is ahnost itothing but womb, CJiacomelti assimilated the formal
elegattce of th<'
tility Venuses.'^
African object to the n>ore brtitish conceptio n of stone-age fer-
Wit h
thi s
celebratio n
o f
th e
prinia l
functio n
{)f woma n see n throug h a
primi(ivi/e<l formal logic, Giacornetti had assumed the most vanguard of posi-
tions. I Ic fo\md himself in concert with the agressive anti-VVestern stance of the
visual avant-garde, given verbal form by, for example, Georges Henri Riviere,
soon to be the assistant director of the 'rroca<lero, when he ptiblished a
panegyric to archeology —"parricidal daughter of humanism"—in the initial
volum e of Cahiers d'art.^*' Openin g with the bald statetnen t that the miracle of
Cireek art had run its course, Riviere went on to say that if Louis Aragon and
Jea n Lurfat were now to go to Spain, unlike their fathers, their most urgent
12, I'rrvicnis altoiniXs to asNign a triliiil, sculpUiral xourcc for ihc frinalc half of I'ht CoupU Kvm
unconvincing on ihc basis of conceptual and morphological
.Maurer suggests a
Maliongvve reli<|uary figure, Cciwling proposes Makond e body shie ds (see Maurer , p. 31<), an d
Kliziil>eth Ncibilt Cowling , "Th e Primitive
l.dndon , die Courtltau h Insliliite, 1970. p.
Sources of Surrealism, " unpublishe d .VI. A. thesis,
-16). Hut however unpcrsuasiv e the s|x-cifK "source"
might Iw, the suggcstiona put forward by these authors attest lo Uieir experience of the Africaniz-
ing character of the figures in Thr CoupU. Thi s quality make s suggestions of a .Nc<»lithic source for
the work, put forward by other scholars, somewhat dubious. There is a strong compositional (but
not conceptual) reseml)lancc belween the female figure of I'kt CoupU an d (me of die menhi r
figures from St, Scrnan sur Kance, a work that ligurc.s in the t]lusirati(ms of the Cariiac Museum
< atalogiie of 1927. 'I1iis connection was first sugge.sted by Ste|>hanir Poley ("AlberKt Ciiacoiiiettis
Uinsetzun g Archaischer
Gestaltungsformc n in Seinein VVerk Zwischcn 1925 un d {^"ib" Jahtbuth
drr Ilambuifin KuniUammUinufi 22 (19771, 177) an d later by Alan WilkenM>n {(iaunuin to Mootr,
hmiltvum m Modtrn Stulptutt, Art Cjallery of Toronto , 1981, p. 222). Ther e ar c other e.xamplesof
th e elfec t o f prehistori c image s an d object s i>n (H.irometti' s work , mos t obviouxl y in th e 1931
sculpture 'Iht CatfSi in which the splayed han d etched onto the surface mimic s the "stenrilled"
palm print.sof the caves. Intrrest in this detail fn>m prehistoiie painting is to be ftnind ever>'wheie
m the
1920s, on e
famou s exampl e
ol' which is the cover of Ozcnfant' s Foundation! of Modem Ah
(1931), But in 'Vht CoupU the prehistoric image, if it indeed funclionr d as a sugge.stion for the
c(int|K)siiion. has been
into a n evident style
13. Th e Da n scnirce
was first suggestetl by Jean Laude . I.a Peinturtjran^aise
nrxrr, Pari.s Klincksieck,
1968, p,
I'i. Th e Exposition de t'ati indigene de.f colonies d'AJrique ei dXkeanxe, Muse r des Arts De(«>r.itif*
(Novemlxrr 1923-Januar y 27, 1924) vvas organized by Andr e l^vcl . Amon g the collections
draw n upo n for the exhibition weiv those of Felix F^tu'on, Andr<? Lhote, Patrick-Henry Bru<e,
Paul Guillaume, and of course the Trocad^ro. Guillaume contributed 79 objccts. of which six
were spoons listed as "Cole d*lvnirc,''Jean-l.<>ui.\ Paudial Ix-lieves that these nnist have included
Dan objects. Two other spoon/women lhai Giacometti could have seen were: the Lega spoon in
Car l Ein.strin, l.a Sculptwr africaine, Paris . Iviitions Crcs , 1922, plate 42; an d the utensil il-
lustrated in plate 3 of Paul Guillaum e an d 'Iliotnas Munro , Ptimittve S'egro Stulptwe, Ne w York,
Hanourl , Brace, 1926. Th e Krench edition of this l)CK)k api)eare(l in 1929.
15. .See the copy Ciiacometti mad e of the Venu s von Laussel, publislied m l.uigi Carluccio, A
Sketihhoofi of Intnptethe />aM'inji. Ne w York . Hari y N. Abrams , 19(iH, |)late 2. It
is dilKciilt t o
dal e these drawings , ljut this page also contains the sketch-idea for Giacometti s 'Vroii personnages
dfhon of 1929.
Modernist Myths 50 Jean Lambert-Rucki. Tw o Masks , 1924. ' Wotxi Alherlo Ciacomrlli. Si)<K)n
Tw o
Masks ,
Si)<K)n Woman .
:\'o More Play T)! ispuoit. Wofv. Ivory Coa\t. I'Humme, Pati^. Wood. Miisre de Sfwou. Hun.
:\'o More
ispuoit. Wofv. Ivory Coa\t.
I'Humme, Pati^.
Wood. Miisre de
Sfwou. Hun. Lihetiu ut Ivory Cuasl. Wtmd
Musee de I'Homme, Pari\.
goal woul d not IH' th e Pra<lo, bu t ihc* eave s of Altaniira . Spoon Woman, contein -
poiary with this statement, is also its confn'mation.
But Spoon Woman is somethin g else as well. It is wha t anothe r win g of the
intelleciual vanguard would view as "soft" primitivism, a printitivism gone for-
mal an<l therefor e gutless. Indeed , to associate Spoon Woman with CaAiers d'arf is
to place it within the context of a formalizing conception of the primitive that
we hear, lor example, behind the praise Christian Zervos bestowe<l on Brancusi
as the most successful .sculptor of the postwa r period. Since the gr<?at inllux of
black culture, Zervos wi-ote in 1929. "Brancusi has explon'd all rhe vistas ihat
ihe Negros have optrned up to him, ami which
pur e lorm . Spoon Woman participates in both
permitted him to achieve
ihe sense of scale anti the
([uality of formal reduction that (jiacometti achieved, doubtless throtigh knowl-
edge of Braticusi's work.
O n e year before Giacometti made this sculpture, Paul Cuiilhuune pub-
lislnrd a book that represented the extreme of the movement to aestheticize
primitive art.' " Primitive Negro Siuipture, conceived ujide r the aegis of Albert
Barnes, written at the Barnes Koundaiitm, and publisheti in F.nglish, acknowl-
edges as its only real precedent an analysis of the formal structure of African art
16. George s Henr i Riviere, "Ai'cheologinnes." Cakim d'ari, n<i. 7
17. (Mirislian Zeivos , "Notes sut lu s<ulpture coiuemporaine. ' Cahtfn d'art, no . 10 (1929). 4()r).
18. OiiillaMine aiul Miiiint,
52 Mo<it:niist Myihs by Roger Fry. " Because of (}uillauiiu:'s prominence in the art worltl
by Roger Fry. " Because of (}uillauiiu:'s prominence in the art worltl the book
wouhi unfloul)(edly have been well known in Paris even before its translation
into I'Vench, and indeed, one of its illustrations may have reinforced (Giacometti's
conc<;ption of the woman/spoon.
Maintaining that every work of African art can be understood as the solu-
tion to a forma l problem , PrimUive Negro Sculpture present s eac h of its objects as
"a rhythmic, varietl s<?(juence of some theme in n)ass, line, or surface," describ-
ing the
wa y the geometrically conceived element s are first articulated an d then
unilied by the plastic genius of the primitive sculptor. But what is insisted upon
throughout the text is the continuous presence of a will to arl, an aesthetic drive
that is understood to be originary, or primal. Preceding all ideas, religious or
otherwise, this instinct is the joint possession of children of all races as well as
thos<r "children" of the huma n race: primitiv e me n an d women . It is thtts the
Western child's creative play with paints, clay, and crayons that gives us access
to the processes that drive primitive art. In concluding with the certainty that
"it is not hard to imagine, then, the continuous development of negro art out of
the free, naive play of the aesthetic impulse," Guillaume joins the acstheticizing
interests of the art world to the most euphoric position of develo]>mental
psychology as that was being etmnciate<l in the late 1920s.'® He places himself
in accord with the psychologist G. H . Luquet.
Luquet's conviction that the arl of children and the art of ])ritnitivc man
form a single category, one which contests the values of "civilized" art, was un-
doubtedly what interested Georges Bataille and drew him to review Luquet's
book ui the magazineA t the point, however, where Bataille shar]}ly
diverges from Luqtiet's benign view of the forces at work behind the develop-
men t of primitive figuration, we can start to take the measur e of the attack
launched by this wing of the radical avant-garde on the art-Ibr-art's-sake view
of ])rimitivism. Since, as I will argue, Bataille's attitu<Ie had a great deal to do
with shaping Giacometti's ultimate conception and use of primitive material, it
is worth attending to his criticism of Luquet.
I.u(|uet present s the chiki as havin g no initial figurative intentions bu t
rather as taking pure pleasure in manifesting his ow n presence by dragging his
dirty lingers along walls or covering white sheets of paper with scrawls. Having
mad e marks, the child later begins to invest
parts of them with represen-
tational value. With this "reading" of the lines he has made, the child is even-
19. Roge r Fry, "Negro Sculpture,"
Viiion and Driign,
York, Brcutano's,
20. At (uu- of many examples of ihe aesthetici/.ing discourse that analym i primitive url as just
one moment of the collcciive reprcscnialion of Ari-ln-general. and thus of the acstheiic impulse
roinmo n lo all humanity , see
1931 (French publication,
A. O/enfant , Foundaitont o/ModrmArl:
The If f Age to 1931, Ix>ndon,
21 .
M . lAi(|uei , I.'Arl prtmilif,
Paris . Gasto n
IXlin ,
1930 . Fo r Bataille' s review , se e "L'Ar t
no .
7 (1930) , 389-97 .
Collecte d in (Jeorge s Bataille,
Pnriii. (iailimard,
1970, vol.
I. pp.
No More Ploy 53 luaily able to repeat the images voluntarily. Since the basis of
luaily able to repeat the images voluntarily. Since the basis of the interpretation
is enormously schematic, what is involved is the connection of a mark with the
idea of an object, a process that has to do with conception and not with resent-
blance . For this reason Luque t calls primitiv e figuration inlelleclual realism,
reserving the ter m visual realism for the Wester n adult' s preoccupatio n with
figurative reading . Resemblanc e to external objects havin g bee n first "recog-
In Luquet's program, then, an absolute freedom and pleasure initiates the
impulse to draw; it is this instinct, not the desire to render reality, that is
primal. O n top of this foundation a procedttre is gradtially built for adjusting
the mark to the conditions of representation, and within this a "system" of
liguration develops with consistent characteristics over the entire domain of
primitive art. whether that be the drawings of children, gralltttists, aborigines,
or peasants. Characteristics like the profiles of faces endowed with two eyes and
two ears, or the rendering of houses and bodies as transparent in order to display
their contents, or the free combination of plan and elevation, are what remain
unchanged through the practice of "intellectual realism." In Luquet's scheme,
knowledge is thus generously added to pleasure.
CX course, the chronology of prehistoric art does not su]}])ort Lutjuet's
progrcssivism. Th e caves of I^ascaux, with their astonishing naturalistn,
precede the much cruder renderings of later periods. Yet if Hataille draws his
reader's attentio n to this obviou s flaw in Luquet' s scheme , it is not for reasons
of historical accuracy but in order to assert something that had already become
a staple of his thinkin g throughou t his editorshi p Documents, an d wa s lo con-
tinue beyond. What Bataille points to is the unetiual mode of representation,
within the same period, of animals and men. "The reindeer, the bison, or the
horses," Bataille attests, "are represented with such perfect detail, that if we
were able to see as scrupulotisly faithful image s of th<; me n themselves , the
strangest period of the avatars of humanity would immediately cease being the
most inaccessible. But the drawings and sculptures that are charged with rep-
resentin g the Atnignaciait s themselves ar e almost all injorme an d muc h less
huma n than those that represent the animals; others like the Hottentot Venus
are ignoble caricatures
Magdalenian period.""
of the huma n form. This opposition is the same in the
22. Oruvrt:, Compiitfi,
V'dI. I, p. 251. /N/ormr (tatiHlatrs
"unruriiu-d,'although BataiDr iittcnds
the wor d
to und o Uie Aristotelian distinction betwee n for m an d
matter .
54 Modernisi Myihs I( is becausc "this crudt* and distorting art has been reserved for
I( is becausc "this crudt* and distorting art has been reserved for the
huma n figure," that Bataille insists on its willfulness, on its status as a kind of
primal vandalism wrought on the images of men. Indeed, Bataille wishes to
substitute destructiveness for I.u(]uet's serene view of the pleastire principle at
work at the origin of the
impulse to draw. Th e child's marking on walls, his
scrawls on paper, all proceed from a wish to destroy or mutilate the support. In
each subsequen t stage of the developmen t charle<l by Luquet , Bataille .sees the
enactment of new desire to alter and deform is there before the subject:
"Art, since it is incontestably art, proceeds in this way by successive destructions.
Thu s insofar as it liberates instincts, these are sadistic."^'
T h e term that Bataille linds to generalize the phenomenon of sadism in
both children's art an d that of ihe caves is alteration^ an d this wr)r<l, in the preci-
sion of its ambivalence, is characteristic of Bataille. Alteration derives from the
Lati n alter, which by openin g equall y ont o a chang e of state an d a chang e
advancement ) of time , contain s the divergent significations of devolution aiul
evolution. Bataille
poim s out that alteration describes the decompositio n of
cadavers as well as "the passage to a j>erfecUy heterogeneous state corresponding
the tout autre, tha t is, the sacred , realized for exampl e by a ghost.Al -
teration—which Bataille uses to discribe the primal impulse of man's self-
representation—thus becomes a concept that simultaneously leads downward
a n d upward : like altus an d sacer, the double-directed , prima l concept s that in-
terested Freud. 'Fhe primal,
or originary, is therefore irresolvably difftise —
fractured by an irremediable doubleness at the root of things that was, in his
closeness to Nietzsche's thought, dear to Bataille. In its confounding of the logic
that maintains terms like high and low, or base and sacred as polar opposites, it
is this play of the contradictory that allows one to diink the truth that Bataille
never lired of demonsirating: (hat violence has historically been lodged at the
heart of the sacretl; that to be genuine, the very thought of the creative must
simultaneously be an experience of death; and that it is impossible for any mo-
mcrnt of true intensity to exist apart from a cruelty (hat is ecjually extreme.^^
Bataille is well aware that the civilized Westerner might wish to maintain
himself in a state of ignorance about the presence of violence within ancient
religious practice, so that he either does not notice or does not reflect upon the
23. Ofui m Comf>rftf<:, vol.
24. Ibid.,
p. 2&I. Thi s luktioo of (IK- D<nil)lr iiritM* of ilio RU<it vviinl (il'ii givvn coiu rp t LAKCN int o
arroui u
Freud' s iturrrs i
in ihis
kin d of etymoloffira l stud y
in whic h
an d
ar c
use d
as examples .
Se e
I'Veud's "Antithetica l
Sens e
uf Prima l
Words ,
publishe d
]!>]<) in
I, a s a revie w o f Kar l Abel's Gegeminn
Fo r
oalaille' s
knowledg e
Deni s
llollier ,
Paris ,
1974, p. 240.
liaiaille was de|>endent upon the etbnological data available to him at the time,
fro m whic h he mad e hi.s ow n particula r selection in orde r t o suppor t his critiqu e of philosophy .
Fo r a discussio n o f Uataille' s
connectio n li> ethnograph y i n (h e 1920 s antl'SOsse e Alfre d Meinuix ,
"Rencontr e
les ethnologucs. " Critique,
no .
195-19 6 (1963) ,
677-684 .
;\'o More Play 5 5 xignificnncc ol' ilic dtrformi-tl anthropoids that appear in the caves,
;\'o More Play
5 5
xignificnncc ol' ilic dtrformi-tl anthropoids that appear in the caves, or so that he
aestheticizes the whole of African art. In the first essay tliat he wrote on
primitive civilization Bataille remarked this resistance on the part of scholars to
acknowledge what is liideous and cruel in the depiction of the gods of certain
peoples. Th e text, included in a collection of ethnological essays occasioned by
the first majo r exhibition of pre-Columbian art in Paris (1928), was called
"1/Amerique disparue," an d in it Bataille tried lo understand the reality behind
the representation of the Aztec gods, depicted as caricatural, monstrous, and
deformed.Althoug h his knowledge of pre-Columbian culture was still rather
superficial, his analysis proved to be extremely prescient, according to the
ethnologist Alfred Metrau x as he looke<l back on this early performance of
Biitaille's.®' For wltat Bataille could read into these images was the presence of
malign and dissembling gods, trickster gods to who m was dedicated a religious
fervor in which pitiless cruelty combined with black humo r lo create a
of delirium: "Doubtless, a blo{)dier ecccniricity was never conceived by
huma n
madness: crimes contimially committed in broad sunlight for the sole satisfac-
tion of god-ridden nightmares, of terrifying ghosts! Th e priests' cannibalistic
repasts, the ceremonies with
cadavers and
rivers of
blood—mor e than one his-
torical ha[)pening evokes (he stunning debaucheries described by die illustrious
Marqui s de Sade.''^® Broadening the reference frotn Mexico lo de Sade was
characteristic of the intellectual field commo n to 1920s ethnological thinking
(particularly in the circle aroun d Marcel Mauss) , with its focus on the violent
performance of the sacred in Africa, Oc eania, and the Americas.
But in speaking of the Aztecs' insatiable ihirsl for blood, of their sacrificial
practices in which the living victim's heart was cut out of his body and held up,
still palpitating, by the priest at the altar, Bataille the "a.stonishingly
joyous character of these horrors." As in the case of the concept of alteration,
the practice of sacrifice by the Aztecs allows the double condition of ihe sacred
26. In Jr.i n HaWlon, l.'Ati prhvtumbifn, I'aits, fuiiiidnst Hvaiix-Arts, liKiO. Tin s collcciiun of
was lo acconi|>iu»y llit 1928 Kxposition de I'art /U I'amhiquf, in ihc Pavilion d c Marfa n
an<l in-
cliidrd ti'xi.s by Alfred Mrirau x ami Paul Kivci, amon g oda-rs. l'rc-(Columbian art was seen al
the lime as u<'<'upyin); a continuous held willi that of Africa and Oceania; forexamjilc, in the text
"l.'Art ne}{re" that Zer\'os wn« e to intnHluce ii xjKH'ial issue of Cahtm d'ari (no. 7-8, 1927), he
s|>eal<s of "die uitaclmtcnt of ou r generation for arf Mgre' spccifyin«. "Thai is what was protluretl
twenty yearx aji^u with Ne^n ) st
ulptuir , it is what
is pniduie d
ri^ht now
with Mclanesian an d
pre-(It)lumbian art" (p. 230). O n (his same subjcct Breton wmtc : ''J"hc ver>' particular
that painters at the Ix'^inninK of liie 20lh century had for African ait, today it is American a n
from l)cloix* the conquest dial. alon){ with Oceanic art, c.xercises an elective influence on artist.v"
(Breton, Afrxiqu/, Paris, Kenous an<l fa>lle, 19.39,
pa-face). 'Hie Breton an d l%luard ci)llccli«ms
auctioned in 1931 were jjiven over to pre-(^olumbian art to almost as extent as to
Oceani c object.s. Th e 1936 exhibition j)f surrealist object.% at the
CMiarlcs Ratio n Oiillery inclutled
American objects aloni{ with those of Oceania; the cataloj,'ue specifies these American works as
fuskimo, IVnivian, and
27. .Vleliaux, "Rencontre avec les ethnologucs."
28. Bataille. Oeuvrn Cvmfiliifi. v<t\. I, p I.'i2.
fjft Modcrnisl Myihs lo be cxperlence<l. "Mexico was not only the most streaming of the
lo be cxperlence<l. "Mexico was not only the most streaming of the human
slaughterhouses," Bataille writes in comparing Aztec culture with that of the
Incas, which he found bureaucratic an d dour , "it was also a rich city, a
veritable Venice of canals atid bridges, of decorated temples and beautiful
flower garden s ove r all."-^^ It wa s a cultur e
of blood that bre d bot h flowers an d
If Giac<»n)etli ha<l begu n
1926 an d
1927 with a conception of primitive
art inscribed on the Luquet side of the ledger, he had moved by 1930, the year
"L'Amerique disparue" was published, to that of Bataille's. Kor in the interven-
ing years, Giaconjelti had been assimilated into the group that made up
I n
1928, the yea r afte r
h e finished Spoon
IVoman, Giacomctt i showed his
work for the first lime. What he exhibited were two of the plaquelike heads and
figures h e
ha d mad e that year , object s tha t carrie d the blan k fronialil y oi Spoon
new simplicity an d elegance . In accordanc e with the direction im-
plied in the aestheticized view of primitivism, objects now became
his models for abstracting and reducing his form. Th e presence of these models
within his practice was immediately apparent to the viewers of (his work. In
one of the earliest commentaries on Giacometti's sculpture, Zervos spoke of its
connection to Cycladic art.^^
O n
the basis of these two exhibited objects,
Andre Masson asked to meet
Giacornetti. Immediately thereafter began ihe sculptor's initiation into the
group that included M.isson, Uesnos, Artaud, Queneau, Leiris, and Bataille,
the group that was known as the dissident .surrealists, for whom (he intellectual
cente r wa s Documents. Since three of th e editors of Documents were Bataille, wh o
was deeply committed to the development of ethnographic theory as that was
being formulated at the Ecole des 1 lautes Etudes in the seminars of Marcel
Mauss,'* Michel Leiris, who had become an ethnologist by 1931, and Carl
Kinstein, who had published his study of primitive sculpture by 1915, the com-
milment of the magazine to this subject is obvious. Giacometti's close and lasting
friendship with Leiris, which began at this moment, brought with it a relation
to ihe details and theories not only of ethnography but of the uses to which it
wa s bein g pu t by the Documents
group.' ' In 1930, at the en d of his initiation into
29 .
Zcrv«>s, "Notes
sur la »< ulj)tuiv contcmporaioc, " |).
For an actouni of the way Bataille's thought was shaped by Mauss, see Metraux, "Rencon-
tre avec les elhnoKijjues.'' Another di.v:u%sion of this relationship is lanie.i ClifTonfs "On
Fthn<»|{raphic Surrcalistn, " Comfiaralive Studies in Socifiy and Htilory, XXII I (Oct<.l>er 1981),
32. l-lohl insists on (liaeotnctti's knowledge and employment of the kind of prccise ethnographic
informatio n alK>ul the contexts uf tribal art that woul d have come to hint ea.sily through his con-
nection with Ixiris (H<)hl. 1972, p. 79.). In an interview with the author (Fcbruar)- 24, 1983),
Leiris supplied no dciaile<l information but agreed that (>iacomc(li was present al di.Mussions
concernin g ethnograph y held by ihc Dotumatii group .
A'o Aiorg Plajf 57 Alifrrlo Giacotwtfi. Sus|K*tHU'{I Ball. Sus]K-tuk-(i Hall (detail). I930-JJ. Plaslcr
A'o Aiorg Plajf
Alifrrlo Giacotwtfi. Sus|K*tHU'{I Ball.
by 14'/,
t'-iVi inthes.
Documents, Giacomctl i mad e Suspended Ball. A sculptur e that wa s to caus c a sen-
sation among the orthodox surrealists, giving Giacometti instant access to
Breton and Hali, a sculpture that set olFthc whole surrealist vogue for creating
erotically charged objects, it was nonetheless a work that had much less to do
with surrealism than it did with Bataille.''
Mauric e Nadea u remember s the reactions originally triggered by Suspended
"Everyon e wh o saw this object functionin g experience d a stron g bu t in-
definable sexual emotion relating to unconscious desires. This emotion
was in
no sense one of satisfaction, but one of disturbance, like thai imparted by the
irritatin g awarenes s
of failure."'*
A n erotic machine .
Suspended BaUn, then , like
33. Along wiih Miro and Ar]>. Cii.icometii rxhibiicd in the .luiuinn of 1930 al dir (tnlcriv
I'ierrt:. (icorgc s Sadoul rcculls, "At die en d of 1930 1 niei Alberto (liacomciti . H e had ju&i been
admitted into (lie Surrealist group
In 1930 he inlroducetl a new mode into SurretJisin with
his sculptures
(hat were nu>t>ile ot>Jcc(s. 'rhi.s launche d the vogu e
of Surrealist objects with a sym-
bolic o r er«>lic
function , the makin g of which Ixrcame practic ally obligatory" (Cite d in I lohl, 1972,
p. 2-19). Th e dal e i)f Dali's 'Objei s a fonclioiHtemeni
symbolique ' ( L e Sunndiimt au mvUe de la
th'olution, iKi. 3 119311. 16-17), demonstrate s (his later attempt t o absor b Cfiaiometti's innovative
wurk into (he heart of the surreidist mt>vcnten(.
34. Mauric e Nadeau . Hiiloirt du SurtMtsmt, Paris, Seuil, 194S, p, 176,
T Modcrnisl Mydis .•>8 liaU-f>ame player. Vega de Aparieio, Veracniz, Mexico. (Diau ing adaptedJtom a
liaU-f>ame player.
Vega de Aparieio,
])u( liiinip's l.argf Glass, a n apparatu s
nonfulfdimen i of desire. But Suspended
for ihe disconnection of th e sexes, the
Bride Stripped Bare. Fo r the sliding action
is mor e explicitly sadistic tha n The
that visibly relates the sculpture's
|{r(M)ved spher e to iis wetlge-shaped partne r suggests not only the
act of caress-
ing but that of culling: recapitulating, for example, the stunning gesture from
the openin g
Chien Andalou,
as a razo r slices throug h
a n
opene d
eye.' '
In this double gesture incarnating love and violence simultaneously one
can locate a fundamental ambiguity with regard lo the sexual identity of die
elements of Giacometti's sculpture. Th e wedge, acted upon by the ball, is in
one rea<ling its feminine partner, in another, distended and sharp, it is the
phallic instrument of agression against the ball's vulnerable roundness: it is not
only the razo r fro m Chien Andalou but the bull's hor n fro m Batailles I'Historiede
I'okil, which penetrate s the matador , killing hi m by rippin g out his eye.' *
35, Bat.iillf"sarjirlc"rOKil.''/Xw/iw«7i<j. n<>.
4(1929 ) —ihc sam e issue thai carried ihe lu-^t essay
oil Uiiicoiiieiii's work (.Michel l.eiri». "AllK-rto (i>acomeiii," 209-210) —<ii»ens wilh a disrussitm of
ihis itiinge an d lists die various screenin g of Chiett Andaiou ax the places
wncre die image ha d l>ceii
reproduced. Noi only tloeit Kalaille's concentration o n ihe iheme of ihe eye carry forward his own
prriH-cupations fro m L'llisioirt de
Its significance m primilive belief
bu t throug h Marce l Griaule' s article o n die evil
eye an d
.<iysteins. publisbeil in ihis numbe r as well, the link is once mor e
fiM-ged betwee n ethnographi c analysis an d mcxlern (hematic interests.
In his article "i.;! jxiinle a I'oeil ifAllx'rto (/iatttmetti, ' ('nhiert du Muw
Xafiunal tfArt Atoderne,
no. 11 (I9B3), 64-100), Jea n Clair argues lor the direct coimeciion belween Bataille's eroticized,
phalli c conceptio n t>f th e eye , a s fouiu l i n bot h L'llirtaire de I'Oed an d th e Dodimenli mateiial , an d
Giacometti's sculptur e Point to the Eye. His discus-sion of this work turns , in pari , o n Bataille's no-
tion uf vision objrciilieil at the limiting condition of the exorbiicd
;\'o More Play 39 Atherin GiacameHt. CirruiI. I9'JI. H 'ood. I % by IHy2 by
;\'o More Play
Atherin GiacameHt. CirruiI.
H 'ood.
by IHy2
And the wedge is possibly a diird subscilute for the phallus, joined in yet
anothe r wiiy to d»e universe of sacred violence that had , by 1930, becom e
shared interest of Giacornetti and Bataille. Th e wedg<' is shaped like the palmette
stones of the ancient Mexican ballgame —wedge-shaped elements that were
thought to have been worn for protection by the nearly naked participants in a
game in which the ball could only be kept in play by being hit widi die knees
and buttocks and in which the very names tjsed for the game stressetl the in-
sirunu'ntality of the buttocks (for example, from Molina's 1571 Nahua dic-
tionary on e finds, ollama: to play ball with the buttocks ; an d olli: certain gu m of
medicinal trees of which they make balls with which they play with their but-
tocks).'' Like evei-yihing else in the Mexico Bataille admired, the Toltec
ballgame was a combination of exuberantre and cruelty, with accounts of
bloody wounds caused by the ball and deaths of the players on the courts, With
its use of the buttocks as a principle instrument of play, the game had a further
homoerotic overtone. If. as I am suggesting, the Mexican ballgame was a com-
ponen t in the formatio n of Suspended Bail—opening as the work does ont o
Giacometti's immediately subsequent investigation of sculpture itself as a ball
coun , o r playin g held, o r
gameboard ,
Point to
the Eye, Circuit, an d "On ne
M. St * Fraiis Bkmi, Th e May a Ball-fJaiiir Pok-'r.i-l'ok," MiddU Animcan Papn\, liilan r
Univcnsily, 'I'liii essay pubhshed in die 1930s represenis ihe level of elhnographit knowl-
edge of (he ballgame at ihe time we are here c«in»i«lering,
Modernist Myths Alberto Ciacomelti. Point to the? Eye. 1932. Wood and metal, by 24 by
Alberto Ciacomelti. Point to the? Eye.
Wood and metal,
by 24 by 14 inches.
Musee S'atioiial d'Ari Modeme,
Pompidou, Paris.
Centre Georges
Allferto Giacometti. Head. 1925. Phstrr,
12 yi inches high. Musee National d'Art
Modeme, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris.
joue pltis" {No More /Vty)—then a "tliird sex" mus t b e adde d to the cycle of in-
determinac y of the work's .«<exual signifiers.
Giacometti's early sculpture had already demonstrated an interest in pre-
Columbian art, along with that of Africa and the Cyclades. Jacques Dupin,
whose study was completed during the sculptor's lifetime, reports that
Giacometti's early "exotic" sources were Africa, Oceania, and Mexico.'* Tw o
works that bear obvious witness to this early Mexican connection arc the
Crouching Man of 1926 an d a possibly even earlier plaster Head', an d third
sculpture , Hour of the Traces of 1930,
permit s a readin g of mor e tha n a n
aesthetic relationship to Mexico but rather a Bataille-like experience of the
ethos of Aztec culture. It is the imagery of "rArnerique disparue" and the other
report s of Aztec cultur e publishe d in Docummts—\.\\t full series of whic h
Giacomctti carefully guarded his entire lifetime" —that provides a possible
readin g of Hour of the Traces a s th e ecstatic imag e of huma n sacrifice. For th e
figure at
the top of the work , whos e
rictus is either that of
extrem e ecstasy or
pain (or as Bataille would have it, both), appears posed on an altar below
whicli swings the form of a disembodied heart.
Jar(iuc s Dupin , Alberto Giatometii,
Mucght ,
1962, p.
Jacquc s
Dupi n
lold m c tluU wltcn he brga n
work on his nionogra >h on (riacomrui ,
sculptor lent him his ow n carcfully proicctctl, full set Documents t o work from . For on e of (he
Dociot\a\ti articles on this subjcct, illustrated by codex representations of the victims an d the
of sacrifice, see
Roge r
Herv«5, "Sacrificcs humain s dtt Ccntre-Amcrique, "
no .
40. Cahiers d'Art,
10 (1929), 45G, reproduce s a pliolograph of a n Aztcc pyrami d toppe d by
a n alta r whose structur e is suggestive fur that of t'/lewe
No Afore Play 61 Hour of the Traces inimcdialcl y prcccdcil Suspended Hall. Th e
No Afore
Hour of the Traces inimcdialcl y prcccdcil Suspended Hall. Th e two sculpture s
are structurally connected by virtue of their shared play with a pendant ele-
ment swung from a cagelike support. Within the universe of ideas associated at
that moment to A/.tec culture, the sculptures may be thematically connected as
well. But without any doubt they are both assimilable to Giacometti's fully
elaborated accounts of his own thoughts uf sadism and violence. AUhough lirst
published in Breton's magazine, a text like "Mier, sables mouvants," with its
fantasy of rape ("the whole forest rang with their cries and groans") and
slaughter, has little to do with the notions of convulsive beauty authorized by
surrealism.*' Its relationship is to Georges Bataille, whose own writing and
preoccupations seem to have given Giacometti permission to express these fan-
tasies of brutality. Like his lifetime attachment lo Bataille's magazine,
Giacometti's writing about violence —as in his essay on Jacques Callot or his
text "Le reve, le Sphinx et la mort de T."—continued well beyond the 1930s
41 Albrrt o Oiacomctli , 'Hicr . subles mouvants,' ' Le Suniaititne
au lervice de let reielulion.
Th e
Hou r
th e
Traces .
in Cahier s
d'ari ,
62 Modernist Myrhs and his repudiation of surrealism. lit both their structure and imagery these
and his repudiation of surrealism. lit both their structure and imagery these
texts often call Bataille to mind.*'
I said befor e that alteradon function s as a Bataillian concept becaus c of the
primal contradiction that operates its relation to meaning, such diat the signilier
oscillates constantly between two poles. This same kind of oscillation of mean-
ing (for the
wha t is put
complexit y
involved th e mor e accurat e
ter m might
be migration) is
into play by Suspended
Fo r thoug h
the work is siructurtrd as a
binary opposition, with the two sexes, male and female, juxtaposed and con-
trasted, the value of each of these terms does not remain fixed. Kach element
can be read as the symbol of eidier the masculine or feminine sex (and for the
ball, in addition to an interpretation as testicles, there are the additional, possi-
ble semantic values of buttocks and eye, neither of these determined by
gender). Th e identification of either form within any
given reading of tlu;
work is possible only in opposition to its mate; and readings circulate
through a constantly shifting (heater of relationships, cycling through the meta-
phoric statement of heterosexual cotmection into the domains of transgressive
sexuality—masturbatory, homosexual, sadistic —and back again. The trans-
gression contained in the sculpture's signifying gesture, we should note, sets it
apart simultaneously from Breton's adamant rejection of the sexually perverse,
a n d the rathe r anodine , formal jeux d'esprit of Picasso's transformation s of the
huma n bod y in the late '20s, wilh which Suspended Ball is ofte n compared.* ^ In
its continual movement, its constant "alteration," (his play of meaning is thus
the enactment in the symbolic realm of the literal motion of the work's pendular
Althoug h
alter(n)atio n ot Suspended Ball is constant , it is nonetheles s
regulated in a way that is entirely structued by the possibilities of metaphorical
expansion of its two elements —wedge and sphere —and the oscillations of their
sexual values. In this erotic play within a structurally closed system, the sculp-
lurtr participate s in the daemoni c logic of Bataille's I'llistorie de
I'OEil. In
Bataille's work, which as Roland Barthcs points out is literally the story of an
object —the eye-an d what happens to it (and not to the novel's characters), a
12. All>rri«i Gi.'iroiiifiti, "A (iropos do Jacquc s Callot," luibjrintfie, no . 7 (April 15, 1945), 3.
This essay rclaics the fascination with horror and (Icstruclion on the part of CaDoi, Goya, and
(Jcricaidt: "For thrsr artists there is a frenetic desire for destruction in every realnt. up to that of
huinaji consciousness itself." In a thought that is olwiously close to Bataille, Giacometti com hities
dial in order to uiiderMand this one would have to speak, "on the one hand of the pleasure in
de.struction that one finds m children, of their cruelly
and on the other liaml of the subject-
matte r of art." "I
reve, le Sphinx et
la mort
tie T., " I^ibiyinthe, no. 22/23 (Decembe r 15. 1946),
12-13. Not only does the story ol the .spider, in the dream recounted in this texl, recall Bataille's
iheme of the in/ormr, but the description ofT.' s head, rendered hideously objective by death, is
pure Bataille. Incom e 'a n object, a little,
measurable, insignificant box," the head is seen lis a rot-
ting cadaver, "miserable debris to be thrown away," into the mouth of which, to (liacomctti's hor-
ror, a lly enters.
43. I lohl ileclares, for example, "li is certain that the club and sphere forms that Picass<i elabo-
lated in his i*iojft pour un inonumml
inforine<l th e sirutliir e of SmptnHeti
A;//(llohl ,
1972, p. 111).
;\'o More Play 63 (-onciition of migration is established in which the otiject is, as
;\'o More
(-onciition of migration is established in which the otiject is, as it were,
"declined" through various verbal states. As a globidar element the eye is
transformed through a scries of metaphors by means of which, at any given
point in the narrative, other globular objects are substituted for it: eggs,
the sun . As a n object containin g fluid, the eye simultatieously gives
rise to a secondary series related lo the lirst: yolk, tears, urine, sperm. The
two metaphoric series thus establish a systetn of combination by means of
which terms can interact to produce a near infinity of images. Th e sun, meta-
phorized as eye an<l yolk, can be de.scribed as "(laccid luminosity," an d can give
rise lo the phrase "(he urinary liquifaction of the sky." Yet ii is more correct lo
characterize the two metaphorical scries as two chains of signifiers, "because for
each one it is obvious that any term is never anything but the signifier of a
neighboring term."*'* Aiul if, as one part of one chain coruiecis to that of the
other , (his combinatoirr is a machin e for the productio n of images , it is essential
to note that because uf the logical constraints regulating the chains, there is
nothing surrealist in (hese "encounlers"; (hey are not meetings by chancc.
T h e structure of these metaphoric substitutions thus produces not only
the course of the erotic action of die narrative, but the verbal fabric through
which th e rmV is woven . An d this aspect iyf {'Hiiloirede I'OKil
compar e to th e action o{
For , conceived
a s
is also importan t to
th e action of meta -
phor, the story of the eye is not the story of a literal eye. Deprived of a point of
origin in die real world, a moment that would be anterior to the metaphorical
transformations, conferring tm them both their point of departure and their
sense, the story has no privileged term. As Barthes says of the work's structure,
"the paradigm has no beginning anywhere." Because the eye's sexual identity
remains perfectly ambiguous (a round phallicism), the narrative does not have
a single sexual fantasy hidden within its depths that would provide its uUirnatc
meaning. "We are left no other possibility than to rellect on a perfectly spherical
metapho r within I'Histoire de
t'OEii. eac h of its term s is alway s (he signifier of
another term (and no term is ever a simple signified), without the relay ever be-
ing abl e to b«' halted."*^
This round phallicism, this collapse of distinction between what is properly
masculine and what is properly feminine, this obliteration of difference, is for
logic what the perversions are for eroticism: it is transgressive. As Baiaille ex-
plains in
task is to
his "Dictionar y entr>'" in Documents for the wor d infome, philosophy's
mak e sur e that everythin g has its prope r form . Its define d boundaries ,
i(s limits. But certain words , an d injorme is on e
of them , hav e a contrar y mis-
sion. Their task is to declassify, to strip away the "mathematical frockcoats"
that philosophy drapes over everything. Because by opening onto Ibrmlessness,
44. Koliiiiri R.-irilu-s. 'l^ji inrtnphor c <li* IWil," (Uinifut, no.
Hri-fti) (Tl'l
M y disiiiMioo
of llic stj'uciurc of nu'taplior in Buiaillr's novel follow.s thai of
45. Ibid
64 Modcrnisl Mvihs to th<r collapse of diffcrcncc, informe "comes dow n lo saying that
to th<r collapse of diffcrcncc, informe
"comes dow n lo saying that the workl is
something like a spider or a piece of spit (crachat),"*''/n/on7»r denotes what
alteration jiroduces, the reduction of meaning or value, not by contradiction —
which would be dialeclical —but by putrefaction: the puncturing of the limits
around the term, ihe reduction to the sameness of the cadaver-whic h is trans-
gressive. Round phallicism is a destruction of'meaning/being. This is not to say
that th e objccl s an d image s of I'llisloire de I'OEil o r
Suspended Hall literally hav e
no form by resembling spittle, but rather that the work they do is to collapse
difference. They are machines for doing this.
Bataille's "Dictionary" was dedicated to revealing the jobs that words do.*'
Hi s magazin e Documents, within which it wa s housed , also
ha d a "job," an d pa n
of this was to use ethnographic data to transgress the neat boundaries of the art
world with
its categories based o n form.
Thi s is the "hard"
use of primitivism , as
opposed to what I referred to as the "soft" or aesthet icized view of it. It certainly
cannot limit itself to borrowing this or that shape from the repertory of
primitive objects the way even art-school students (particularly within the
decorative arts) were being encouraged to do durin g the 19208.*" Instead it
the "primitive" in an expanded sense (although with close attention to
ethnographic detail), to embed art in a network that, in its philosophical
dimension, is violently anti-idealist and antihunumist. Bataille ends his article
"Primitive Art" by invoking the modern art that he respects, art that "rather
Cjuickly presented a process of decomposition an d destruction, which has been
no less painful lo most people than would have been the sight of the decomposi-
tion and destruction of a cadaver."*^ Intellectual realism"—Luquet's
acstheticizing, cognitively constructive category, which itself owes much to the
early defense of cubist painting^"^-will no more address the conditions of this
"rotting painting," Bataille insists, lhan it can address the whole of sculpture in
general . Whe n it come s Bataille's tur n in Documents to think abou t Picasso's
work, he does so under the rubric "Soleil Pourri."®'
Onl y
throug h
(his expande d
conceptio n
of the "job" tha t
primitivism per-
formed for the dissident surrealists can we think about the brilliance of a
sculptur e like Suspended Ball o r adjiulicat e amon g the claims abou t the "source"
46. "Infonnc " wa s Bataille's cntr)' in the "Diclionnaire" of Doiumntt, I, no . 7 (1929).
47. For a discussion of Bniiiille's *Dictionar>'" within the context of the various avant-garde dic-
tionaries, .see Deni s Hollier, La hue de fa C^ntotde, pp . 59-65 .
4B. For cxainj>le, a four-v(»lunie series of ph<iiograpmc reproductions was pubti.<ihcd specifically
for the instruction of arts an d design studeni s unde r ihe title La decoraUon primiiiit, (^alavas
Kditeiir, Paris, 1922. Th e volumes wer e equally devoted 10 African, Oceanic , an d i>rc-
Columhian objects, boih sculpturc.s and textiles.
49. Baiaille,
OF.uvrei Compl'eteu
p .
50. For example , Apollinaire insists in Les feintut cubisiei (Paris, 1913) ihai ctibism "is not a n
arl of imitation, but an art of conception." Or , in Lager's essay "Ixrs Origincsde la peiiuurc et sa
valcu r representative* (^Vfonz/'oiV.', no . 8 (Ma y 19 J3], 7), he concentrates u n die dilference In-tween
realism" and
a "reali-sm of conception."
Thi s appeare d in the special issue un Picasso, Documtnls, II, no. 3 (1930).
;\'o More Play 65 Albato CiacomeHi. Hea<l. 1934. Plastfr. IVlirrftihoulv toiknoum. of Invisible Object.
;\'o More Play
CiacomeHi. Hea<l. 1934.
IVlirrftihoulv toiknoum.
of Invisible Object. I'^or the elaborat e networ k of the primiliv e that ha d been
developed by the early '30s tends to provi<le a sculptur e like Invisible Object with
many interconnected references, thus supporting not only Hohl's assertions
about the work but Breton's and Leiris's as well, and opening onto still further
conditions that grenerated the work.
If we start with Leiris's report about the little Swiss girl, which in the con-
text of this moment of (iiacometti's art is certainly the most questionable of
referents, we see that in fact it lits into the circumstances surrounding the
developmen t of the work . Breton report s that the first slage of the head , the on e
ultimately replaced by the mask from the Ilea market, was Hat an d undefined,
although the conception of the eyes as large wheels —the right one intact, the
left on e broke n —continue d throug h the first an d second versions. " Jus t prior
to makin g Invisible Object, in 1934, Giacornetti mad e a plaster that fits Breton's
description an d wa s undoubtedl y the sketch for
the initial i<lea of the figure's
head . Wher e the final version is crystalline an d defined , the plaster sketch is
llabby and almost formless, but what connects the two conceptions (beyond the
wheel-like eyes) is the condition of being a mask.^' For the plaster head is clearly
52. Rrcton, Dvcummts
53. Th e yea r before makin g ihe plaster mask/sketch for Inuisihle Object, Giacomctl i executed
anothe r "mask" in plaster: the derorined hea d of Flower in Danger {{923). 1'hiji sculpture, with ils
images of incipient decapitation of the
is like a little macJiine for the production uf
the ace{Aale. It is possible (hat n plaster head by Arp , published in
in Vari^a (Jun e 1929), contributed to the notion of the head as a
ibe special issue on
mask in the process of dccom-
Motlernisi Myihs (iti Alberto Cituometti. Flowe r in Danger . 193'J. Wood, melal, phuer, 21V»
Flowe r
Danger .
by 30%
copicd from one of the carnival masks photographed byJacques-Andrc Boiffard
a n d reproduce d in
Documents to accompan y (Jeorge s I Jmbour' s text "Eschylc, le
Cartiaval et les Civilises."^"*
T h e
setting for Limbour's meditation on this subject is a chaotic gen<Tal
store in which the author watches a little girl shyly pick up a carnival mask of a
bearded man and, trying it on, transform herself into a kind of Lolita by lasciv-
iously running her tongue along the lips of the papier-mache face. Th e vivid
descriptio n o f
thi s "Salom e
<if th e streets " ma y wel l b e th e vehicl e o f associatio n
with the little Swiss girl.
T h e rest of Limbour's arlicle also rewards atteniitm. Speaking lirst of the
conception of death into which the grimacing masks of Greek tragedy froze
the mobility of the huma n face, Limbour then turns to primitive masks. For the
Documents grou p a s well as for the orthodo x surrealists, the preferre d domait i of
54. Documenls,
11, no . 2 (1930),
97-102 .
;\'o More Play 6 7 Jean Arp. H<';ul. 1929. /'wWnArt/iM Varit'u's June J929), special issue:
;\'o More
6 7
Jean Arp. H<';ul. 1929. /'wWnArt/iM Varit'u's
June J929), special issue: Surrealism in 1929.
primitiv e art v^ras n o lotiger that of Alric a (whic h wa s considere d loo rational ,
too formalist) but that of Oceania, and it is to this that Limbou r refers. " In a
pa.ssage representative of the angrily anticolonialist feeling of both groups,
Limbou r castigates the violation of these territories by (he white man , who sub-
stitutes his "missionaries of Lent, his paper-mache Jesuits" for the incredible
force of the Melanesia n conception of lite mask.^"> An d in a n imag e that is right
ou t of Bataille's conceptio n of di e soleilpourri, he speak s of th e faces carve d ont o
the great poles stuck into the earth, "staring straight into the sun."®' Flaving
raped the South Seas to sencl its sacred objects back to the art markets and
!>r>. I'lii' c.Niiinpti-, tltr .\ui'r«'iili\l iMa]> nf th e worlci in
placcs Oceani a
ih e ver y
cente r
( yarielts jjun e
19291; SurrealiMii
5(>. In 1931 I.OUIH Arago n org-tnim l a n iin(icolt)niali.xl rxhihilio n in a ineclin g hall in th e ru e
<ie )a Grunge-buictiere . t o protes t th e ofliciul Exposition CoioniaU. Giucomctli' s contributio n con -
sisietl of (Kiliiical cnrttKtn drawings. l\v o photographs of ihe rtxiiii set u p by Arugon, Eluard, an d
Tangu y lo r th e exliibition /-<j Vaite sur In colonies appea r in Le SunealiftTu j« service dt la rhvlution,
no, 4 (I)ereinl)er 1931),
57. "Soleil
pourri" cotKentrates o n
the spasmodic
ItKiking into the stin. This
theme was ehilxtralcd in the series of texts entitled "L'oeil
6H Modernist Mvths Jacqufi-Andre Boiffard. Photograph. Published in Documents . // , no. 2 (1930).
Documents .
// ,
/ / .
des hommes,
9 (January
Trocaderos of "civilization," the West has also developed its own masks, ones,
Limbour writes, that are worthy of Aeschylus. These, of course, are the gas
masks that alone are authentic to our times. "Because if religion, the cult of (he
dead, and the festivals of Dionysos turned the mask into a sacred, ritual orna-
njent among the various ancient peoples, we too have our own religion, our
own societal games, an d consequently our own
masks. Onl y tlur general stan-
tlari/ation of our age requires that we all wear the same one."
T h e thought of the gas mask, which substitutes for the "humanity" of the
face a horrific imag e of the brutalit y of industrialized war , ha d becom e <rx-
tremely widespr(;ad among the 1920s avant-garde. A suite of photographs in
Varietes showin g wearer s of
mask s an d
othe r kind s of
mcclianical devices
displays this fascitiation for what modern imagination has dreamed to replace
the head of man.^® As with all the mechanical candidates, but with extraor-
dinary' force in the case of the gas mask, this substitute calls to mind not higher
stage s i n th e evolutio n o f th e specie s bu t much , muc h lowe r on<rs. Be< aus e th e
wearcrr of the gas mask looks like nothing so much as an insect.
T h e ma n with the insect
hea d is injorme, altered . Wha t shoul d b e the sign
of his highest faculties, his mind, his spirit, has become lowly, like the crushed
spider, or the earthworm. Th e man with
the insect head is, like the deformed
58. "Aboutissemcni.s dc la incthuniquc, "
II, no. 9 (Jantuir y
;\'o More Play 69 rri Alhrriu Ciacomefii. Ciigc . 1931. Wood, 19 Vi Alherlo Ciacotnefti.
;\'o More
Ciigc .
19 Vi
Head ,
an(hropuid.N of the eaves, acephale: a transgressive though t of the human.^ ^ Th e
term is, of course, Bataille's, and in liis work it functioned as a kind of password
by which to enter the conceptual theater where humanity displays the richness
of its contradictor y condition . Fo r acephale open s ont o the experienc e of man' s
verticality—his elevation in both its biological and moral signilicance-'as a
negation: a development towar<l the primitive, an ascendance downward. As
we shall see, this conceptual inversion also played a structural role in the re-
defmitio n of sculptur e that Giacomett i explore d in these years. I$ut for Giaco-
metti, as well as for many of his fellow artists, ils most obvious inipact was
Within the imaginative circuit of the period we are considering, the man
with the insect head is also the woman wilh (he insect head : the prayin g mantis .
'Fhe symbol of a collapse of the distinction between life —or procreativity —and
death , the prayin g manti s fascinated (he vanguar d of Variithy Documents, an d
Minotaure o n (he l)asis of a single detail: the femal e of the species wa s know n (o
59. Bataille's
concent rut ion on
llie acephale le<i, in
1936, t o the creation of a joiimn l
name for which Masstin designed the cover. On e of his early trcatinenls of the representation of
m a n in ancient cultur e
was his text "i x has materialisme et la gnose," Dotunvnts.
il .
1 (1930),
1-8 . Le o h'rolmnius deals with (his them e in 'Bi^tes hutnme s ou dieux," Cahitrs d'ari, no .
10 (1929).
} 70 Modernist Mvths cat its partner alter, or even during, copulati<»n. Because ol the
cat its partner alter, or even during, copulati<»n. Because ol the strongly an-
ihropomorphic character of this insect, its mating habits seemed extremely
portentou s t o th e surrealists . Roge r (Jaillois' s
essa y {>n th e mantis , publishe d i n
Afinotaurr in 1934, which becam e the basis of his later sttidies of the function of
myd> and the ambiguity of the sacretl, reported that Breton, Eluard, and Dali
all kept large collections of these insects, in cagcs.**"
Caillois's essay reUrased a swarm of praying mantises onto the surfaces of
surrealist painting/"' But even before 1934 the insect had appeared in
(iiacometti' s wor k as well as Krnst's. Ciiacometti's 1930 Woman, Head, Tree
depict s du> woma n a s a manti s att d seem s t o hav e introduce d th e productio n of
the tw o Cages of the following year . In both of these a n abstracte d
imag e of the
mantis is at work within the nightmarish confines of the sculpture, attacking ils
ma.sculine pariner emblematically lepresenlt'd by a simple sphere, or cranium.
Wit h these Cages, the manti s appear s as well as to hav e been though t throtigh
the mediu m of extrem e forma l disjunctio n that vvas consi<lered to be the majo r
visual <-haracterisiic 4>r(.)ceanic art, giving it its power ^<1 ils savage poeli'y.
O n e of the several
fro m Ne w Ireland that could hav e
been know n to
Giacometti al this time is extremely suggestive as a possible source for the idea
of a disjoint, cageil ligure.^^ And in the analysis of Melanesian motifs that Carl
I'jnstein publishe d in the 1920s, the maUangi^on's structure , conceived as a
cranium contained within a scailoldiiig of bones that is the primitive reconcep-
tion of the skelelon, is even
mor e suggestive f<»r an ict)nologi< al readin g of the
Alter this ii was lirnst who took up the (heme of die mantis and in his pro-
duction of Une Srmaine de lionte, executed in 1933, on e finds (he image imbeddetl
within a whole oeuvr e dedicate d to the condition s of the acephale."''* In on e
chapter of this collage novel in which the huma n (male) hirad is replaced by
everything from worms to birtls to lions, the actors are depicled with the heads
of the great Raster Island statues , an d juxtapose d lo on e such figure regaixling
(ii)self in a mirror is a mantis in the aci of consun»ing her mate."''
Thtr rapport between (Jiacometti and Krnst during (he early 1930s
resulted in Ernst's visit to the Giacometti family's summer house at Maloja in
1934, where wilh Giacometti's help iM'nst tnade a series of sculi)tures by slightly
Roge r Caillois , "L a niaiu c rcligicu-sc," Minolautt,
I ,
no .
.') (Ma y
1934) ,
25 .
Se e,
"L a
Nature ei raiiKiur.' Vatirif^. II, n<i, 2 (Jun e
1're.s.sly, "'llie
Manti s
An, " Art
I A '
(Decembe r
1973), r>(H>-0l5.
Hohl traces ihe UM.'orthe sphere as the mcionymic rcpreseniulion of the male, in the works
of ihe v
years (llohl,
1972, pp.
<)3. Thi s is D 62.2.10 of ihe Muse e des Arts africains el Oc<5anicn8, formerly in the
of M.
(>arl Kinstcin , "Sc ulpture s melanc.Mennes," L'Amoui
de I'ait,
no .
8 (1926) ,
255 .
Ivrnsl's I'nnme
not directly illustrate
100 Tetes (1929) was nominally dedicateii lo this theme even though it docs
line Semaine fie Honle,
;\'oMore Play 71 Max Etnst. Callage Jwm Un e Setnain c ilc Hot>it\ 19.14. pijih
Max Etnst.
Callage Jwm
Un e
Setnain c
Musee des Arts Ajricains
ei Oeraniens,
72 Modcrnisl Myths reworking and etching large stones that the two men dragged front the
reworking and etching large stones that the two men dragged front the glacial
moraine. 'I'hc figures Krnst chose lo represent on these sculptures were both (he
birds from the Easter Island cults and the Papua n bird from Ne w Guinea, with
which Ernsl identified and which he used as his alter ego Loplop.^' Muc h of the
sculpture that Ernst went on to make in the following years shows the ell'ects of
this visit o n his art . Hi s Lunar Asparagus (1935) , for example , is obviousl y in-
debte d to i'rois personnages dans un pr'es, a wur k resonan t wit h primitiv e associa-
tions, which Giacometti had set u p in 1930 in the Swiss countryside.^® But
the interest obviousl y ra n bot h way s a s Giacometti' s Project for a Passageway
(1930-31 ) indicates , wit h ils closeness to image s like Ernst' s Anatomy of a lirtdeor
La lielle Jardiniere.
Thu s Ernst' s associatio n in La Semaine de Bonte of th e manti s wit h the con -
lexl of Oceania and the site of the Papua n spirit bird provides yet one more
aspect of th e man y factor s that determine d the conceptio n of Invisible Object,
with its own inclusion of a bird's head reminiscent of Loplop's. It establishes a
conceptua l site withi n whic h to see ho w th e
logic o{ Invisible Object work s to com -
bine the Solomon Islands spirit of the <lead with the mythic/biological purveyor
of death supplied by the form of the mantis. In Breton's story of the substitution
of one version of the work's head by another, what we can now reatl as (he con-
stant facto r is th e idea of th e hea d
acephale. A s th e mas k itself become s
a s
mask ,
an d
figure, therefore , a s
increasingl y crue l ol aspect , it mor e an d
more closely resembles the pointed shape of the mantis's face, with its huge
staring eyes.''® Giacometti's attraction to the flea-market mask was indeed, as
Freud would have said, overdetcrmined.
O n e wing of Giacometti scholarship is extremely focused on the psycho-
biographical underpinnings of his art 7® T o what has been said about (he fac(ors
contributin g to Invisible Object, this interpretive strategy woul d undoubtedl y
add a hallucinatory maternal presence hovering behind the Solomon Islands
spirit of the dead. Dressed in black, the woma n whom Giacometti rapes and
slaughter s in his adolescen t fantasie s is th e sam e woma n wh o enter s the Palace
at 4 a.m. to disrup t ils ero(ic idyll. Th e great proscribe r of his sexuality , she is
G7. AltlxHigh Ernst's rxtrnsiv e lollrrttoii of Occiinic art ((•nlaincd other things
largely specialized
in objects of the Papuan
Guir (New
to the researcli of
Philip)K- Peltier. (See Peltier in /Viwrti'inw in 2(Hh ('.mlury Att.
Th e Museu m of
Moder n Art ,
(iti. No w destroyed, (he wurk was )ublished in Minolautt, no. (1933), 40. Tiiere is a n ob-
vious resemblanc e between these .stakelike per&onages driven dircctiy into die CTOund an d the
tribal w<KKte n |M)kts totemically car\'e(l an d set into the earth al the entranc e lo villages or houses,
to protect a given area, ifiat were widely known at (his time,
69. Giacotiietti spoke ol' his a((raction to Oceanic sculpture in terms of the exaggeration of the
eyes: "New Hebrides sculpture is true, and more ihan true, because it has a gaze. It's not the im-
itation of an eye, it's |)ure y and simply a ga/e. All the rest is a pixm for (he gaze." Georges (/har-
bonnier . Le monologue du ^nire, I'aris,
Ren e JuiJIiard,
1959, p .
du e
not only of l lohl's monograph , but alM) of the approac h taken by Yves
nefo^-, who is preparing a major study uf die artist. See "Etudes compare s dc la h'onclion
du College de home,
19112. pp .
643-653 .
;\'o More Play 73 AnncUa Stanipa Giacomctti.^' It is possible to trace the way this
;\'o More Play
AnncUa Stanipa Giacomctti.^' It is possible to trace the way this maternal force
was simultaneously associated with the ideas of death that haunt his work and
its equally strong focus on pregnancy and birth. Giacometti was obsessed with
the idea of the rock that bears fruit, or, as Arp had written, "The stones arc full
of entrails. Bravo. Bravo."" Interesting as that territory might be to explore, it
lies at a tangent to the subject of this study, although in what follows, wilh ils
concern wilh death and the monument, the additional testimony of this per-
sonal, biographic motivation is certainly not unwelcome.
Any artist's work can be seen from the vantage of either of two, possibly
cimllicting, perspectives. On e of looks at the oeuvre from within the
totality of the individual. The oiher regards it, far more impersonally, within a
historical dimension, which is to say, comparatively, in relation to the worko f
others and the collective development of a given medium. Often these two
perspectives overlap. Th e shape of Mondrian's career, for example, in ils
search for the neoplastic elements of painting, coincides with his position at the
forefront of the general development of abstraction within twentieth-ceniury
In Giacometti's case this is not so. For Giaconietti's sculpture viewed from
the perspective of his individual oeuvre is overwhelmingly that of the monu-
ment : the single, vertical figure, raised commemorativel y in space , hieratic,
immobile , (all. Fro m (he Spoon Woman, to Invisible Object, to an y of the 19r)0s
standin g figures, we ca n follow the
trajector y of this concern , usin g il to
a conceptual unity on Giacometti's art. But from the point of view of the histor)'
of sculptur e —an impersona l an d far .sympathetic measure-Giacometti' s
entire production of the vertical monument is less interesting, which is to say,
less totally innovatory, than the work he made in the years from 1930 to 1933.
For that intervening work is horizontal.
T h e
innovation of those sculptures, almost wholly unprepared for
by anything else in the history of the medium, was their ninety-degree (urn of
the axis of the monument (o fold its vertical dimension onto the horizontality of
earth .
In objects like Projectfor a Passageway,
Head /Landscape,
ordinar y gameboar d sculptures like Circuit an d "On n^joue plus"
an d the extra-
the work itself
is simply and directly conceived of as a base. We could challenge ihe in-
novatory character of (his inven(ion by saying that already, in the teens, Bran-
cusi had cancelled the distinction between sculpture and base, but we would
then be missing the point of the profound originality of Giacometti's move. F'or
Brancusi's base/sculptures remain vertical. They continue to house the object
within the domain created by the primal opposition between what is not ar-
tistically determined —the ground —and what is —the sculpture. Th e very axis
71. Giucuinctti, "Lc juilais dc quatrc hcurcs," A/tnttfourr, no. 3/4 (1933),
72. Thiii is ih r epigrap h for the cluipier of Unr Srmaint
dr Ronit that contains th e Easter
scciion. Giacometti's text, 'Hier, sahtrs mouvants," Ix-gins with his account of the large nKk
which he w<iuld crawl whe n h e was a child, remainin g there ff>r hours.
74 Modcrnisl Myths yi/lage of (roui/e, Camrroon. Fublisked in Ciiliicr s dart . no. 7-li
Ciiliicr s dart .
of vcriicality dcclaic s the apartnes s of sculpture's representaiiona l field fro m
the world of aclualily, and this dimension is iradiiionally introduced by the
uprightness of a pedestal, wilh ils initiation of the lift of the work above the
ground, ils removal from the spa<e of ihe real. Like a picture frame, the pedes-
tal closes off the virtual field of reprcsentaiio n fro m the actual space aroun d it.
But if the pictur e is someho w only
its frame , then this distinction is not so
easy, and the representation begins to fuse with ils literal surroundings. This
was the transformation of the sculptural that Giacomctti pul in place belween
1930 and 1933. Kor the rotation of the axis onto the horizontal plane was fur-
ther specified by the contents of the work as the "lowering" of the object,
thereby joining it simultaneously to the ground and to the real —to the actuality
of space and the literalness of motion in realtime. From the perspective of the
history of mo<lern sculpture, this is the inaugural act of Giacometti's art, with
implications for much of what was to take place in the rethinking of sculpture
after World Wa r IL And
il is precisely wiihin this theater of operations that we
once again encounter Giacometti's relationship to tribal art and the primitive.
T h e earliest of these sculpture s is Project for a Passageway (1930-31) , an ob-
ject both close to Ernst's "anatomies" and delermined by the ethnographic
metaphor of the body as a cluster of African clay huts. " Giacometti's alternate
nam e for this work— The Labyrinth—vciuiorai^ the relationshij) of its conceptio n
to the world of the primitive.'* For in the thinking of ihe early 1930s, with its
obsession with the Minotaur, the labyrinth was set in primal opposition to
classical architecture's coimotalions of lucidity and the domination of space. In
the grip of the labyrinth, it is man who is dominated, disoriented, lost.'^
Wit h
the second of these horizonta l sculpture s the issue of rotation
axis become s mor e prespicuous . Head/Landscape wa s initially
Sec Amir c (liclc,
"Architcfiur c nrgres. " Cahien
d'art, no . 7/8(1927) , panicularl y ihc image
Dif Sammhtng
Kun.sthaus, Zurich ,
1971. p .
It was Bataille wh o c.onlrihtncU th r
nam e lor ih r review Mtnotaurr,


;\'o More Play 75 Alhrrto GiacomrUi. Prnjcci for a Passagcvvay. imO-31. Plaster. (> by 50
;\'o More Play
Alhrrto GiacomrUi. Prnjcci for a Passagcvvay.
Plaster. (> by 50 by 17 inches. The
Alberto Giatometti Foundation,
Fall oJa Body onto a Diagram,
an d it is diis notion of the body's fall tha t
acknowledges what
the sculpture? visually perfornis."' Th e structural
of Head/Landscape o n the metaphorica l relation betwee n the two things
operated through the spatial device of anamorphosis: rotated onto the horizon-
tal plane, the face resembles a landscape. This precise relationship was spelled
out in a display of "paranoid critical" thinking by Salvador Dali when he "read"
a photograph of African natives sittitig in front of their huts as a Picasso head, a
(mis)reading that resulted, he explained, by his disorientation with regard to
the photograph . In Dali's presentatio n the imag e is
then , like Head/Landscape,
rotated ninety degrees. " But Giacometti's sculpture is less like a head in rota-
tion tha n it is like a mask or Hat coverin g of som e sort. An d the landscap e that
is ils alternate reading does not seem like (he neutral terrain of Dali's example
but rather resembles a necropolis, its rectangular openings suggesting a
tomb.'® (This combination of tomb and necropole would be made more precise
by the coHins
sun k
ini o the groun d
ne joue
of the following
year. )
76 . I n Zrr\'Os' s "Quclquc s note s su r le.s .sculpture.s <Ie Giarojnelti, " {Cahim d'ail
337-342) , tl>e work, which lj«>rc the written inM;ripiion
"la vie continue." was published with the
title ChuU d'un corps sur un graphit/ue. Later, in picturing his art of these years, (Jiacometii lal>elc<l
diis now-lost sculpture Paysagi'— 'Hte cotuhif. See "Leitie a Pierre Mati-vse." Alberto CiacomeHi, New-
York. Pierre
Matisse Caller)'. I94ft. Carol a Giedion-Welcher . wh«> knew Giacometli , puljlished
a n Klru.scan votive bt'on/.e fmn i (he nuiseun i in Piacenzaa s the })os$ibIe inspiration lor Projectfor a
Square {\T\ Giedion-VVelcher, Contemporary Sculpture, Ne w York, VVittenlwrn. I960). Hoh l suggests
that ibis ancient olijet ( imire likely related to Chute d'un iorpi iur u» graphique an d is the soun r
of this name, since the Etniscan work is covered wi(h runes. Hohl, 1972. p. 299, fn, 29.
Dali; "(Communication:visage
paranoiaque. " Lt
au service de la revolu-
no. 3 (Decembe r
See llohl.
1972, p.
76 Modcrnisl Mydis ChiUl'i cofin. Naumea, New CaUdunia. Woud, Fish. Easter Isloiul. Wood, (iy* inches
Various African masks, photographed and published lying down, may
hav e played a role in suggesting die morpholog y of Head/Landscape.^'* Bui die
object that weaves together most of the threads of association suggested by the
work's metaphorical i)lay, and which for that reason could well have been a
source, is the lid of a child's coffin from New Caledonia,
iti the Musde de
I'Homme . Thi s object figured in the copiou s illustrations of the 1929 Cahiers
d'art special issue on Oceania , an issue that Giacomelt i possessed an d fro m
which he made many copy-drawings. Giacometti had constantly insisted that
his frequent drawing after other works of art was most often done from illustra-
tions rather than in front of the things themselves.®® Th e example of his
pre-!945 drawings of Oceanic objects bears this out, for they are practically all
taken from the same published source.®' This resource, at the time the largest
easily accessible repertory of Oceanic images (containing, moreover, man y
representatives of the surrealists' collections: Breton, Aragon, Tzara), may
have suggested other types of relationship lo Giacomctti liesides the head/land-
scap e of the coffin lid (figure 122). Th e Raster Islands bird/fish of figure 180
hav e operate d
behin d
the developmen t
of the phallically conceive<l
agreeable Objects (1931), an d the lusklike earrin g owne d by Tzara , figur<' 169, is
strongl y related to th e sam e series' Disagreeable Object
to Be Disposed OJ.^"^ Fur -
79. I'or rxaiimlr ,
llic 9|>C('iai IMUC on ati
9-10(1920) ,
Htfurr 9.
80 . Albcn o Giacomctu . "Note s su r Ics copies," l.'liphhnere, n<i. 1 (1966) , 104-108 . Diego
Giaiomed i
lo me
(he drawings
of Oceanic objects repnnluccd
in Carluccio,
of Intcrpreture
wei « copied
fro m
1929 iisu c of Cdiiers
(Jarluccio plate
b shows
three sculptures Trom the
Basel Museum :
th e
represent s Faste r Island s statues , iigur e 188 an d 187 in
8 shows
tw o
Ne w
Guine a
object s copied
fro m liguivs 4 3 an<l 41
Plate 9 displays copies of figures 2,
an d
fro m the
82 . There - is also the probabl e influenc e of the extremel y phallic caues-tites fnu n Ne w
Caledonia and Fiji, man y examples of which had been in the Musd c dc I'Homme .since the end of
the nincleeth centuf)'.
;\'o More Play 77 Albato GiatomeUi I Icacl/I.aiuNcapc . J930-31. Plaster, 9'/i by '27Yi inches.
;\'o More
Albato GiatomeUi I Icacl/I.aiuNcapc . J930-31.
Disagrefabl c
Objcct .
78 Modernist Mvths Em (hnamait. \fmiiuf\a\ !standi, loory, IVj AlltfiUi Ciacomrlti. Disiigrrc-jihlr
AlltfiUi Ciacomrlti. Disiigrrc-jihlr ()!>j«'<-i n i
Bf Dispose d Of .
Prii atr
iher» th e bird/wotna n statu e ol" figur e 4 6 resetuble s otic of tlie tw o personage s
that iidutl)it the necropolis of"0 « neJotie filus"; an d as ha s been suggested above
with regar d to the object owne d by Ma x F.rnst, the
variou s
mallangffan, par -
ticularly the one belonging to Louis Aragon (figure 65), contain the idea of
sculptural scaffolding that one finds in Giacometti's repeated use of the cage.
Given the almost exclusive identification of the surrealists with Oceania,
the upsurge of these sources among the range of primitive iniages that were
fueling his imagination at this time might be used to reinforce the general char-
acterization of this period of Giacometti's work (1930-32) as his "surrealist
epoch."®* 1 lowever, Giacometti's connection to the orthodox surrealists did not
really begin in 1930, Suspended Ball, the object that excited their attention , wa s
not exhibited until the end of that year. It is not to the surrealist conceptual do-
main , to its fascination wilh the aleatory , wilh game s of chanc e an d the objet
trouve, that we shouk l look for the
matri x of ideas that operat e
Giacometti' s con-
ception of sculpture's rotated axis: the horizontal gameboard, movement in real
time, (he sculpture as base, the base as necropolis. Th e year this all begati was
1930, an d al that period Giacometl i wa s still connecte d to Documents. Th e
preoccupatio n with real time that enter s his work with Suspended Ball an d Hour
8.1. HoUl,
1972. p.
;\'o More Play 79 Casset-TeUs. New Calahnia. Wood, \fn\ee de I'Homme, Farts.
;\'o More Play
de I'Homme,
80 Modernist Mytljs oj the Traces open s ont o u consifieration of real space;
oj the Traces open s ont o u consifieration of real space; an d real spa<-e is define d
by sculpture that has become nothing but its base, a vertical that is rotated into
"baseness." This veiy operation was made continually by Hataille as he
developed the concept of "ftarmc''— a low o r bas e materialis m —in Documents.^*
In the anatomical geography of Bataille's thought the vertical axis
emblematizes man' s pretensions toward the elevated, the spiritual, the i<leal:
his claim that the uprightness separating him biologically from the bestial
distinguishes him ethically as well. Bataille, of course, does not believe this
distinction, and insists on the presence —behind the repressive assumptions of
verticality —of lowness as the real source of libidinal energy. Lowness here is
both an axis and a direction, the horizontality of the mud of the real. If feet are
highly charged objccls, Bataille insists in "Le gros orleil," it is because,
simultaneously the focus of disgust and eros, they are the part of the body that
is mired in the ground. "A return to reality implies no new acceptance what*
ever, but il means that we are basely seduced, without symbolic substitutions
and u p to the point of crying out, in staring, eyes wide open: staring thus in
front of a big toe."^®
In the "Dictionary" entr y Bouche this op])osition betwee n the vertical an d
horizontal axes is thought specifically through the operation of rotation, Th e
mental axis is the one connecting eyes and mouth, issuing in language, the ex-
pressive function that heralds the human . Th e biological axis
on the other hand
connects mouth to anus —locating the alimentary functions of ingestion and ex-
cretion. T o lower the mental, or spiritual, axis onto the biological one is to
thitik about the real transformation of articulate .sounds into bestial ones at the
moments of man's pain or pleasure, and to see these in their true
operation as excretory. Th e summit of the body is thus given an opening that
has nothing to do with the ideational, but is rather a hole resembling the anus.
In Documenls this texl was illustrated b y a full-page
mouth , wid e open , wet with saliva.®®
photograp h b y Boiffard of a
This idea of a hole at the lop of man's head —one that functions to de-
idealize, de-rationnate , dis-equilibrate —led Bataille to tr>' to construct the
mythoanatomical legend of the pineal eye. Bataille conceived of this gland al
the sunnnit of the hutnan structure as a blind spot. Th e very opposite of
Descartes' belief that the pineal eye was the organ connecting the soul to the
bcKly, Bataille's notion of the gland's function is that it propels ma n upward , at-
tracting him toward the empyrion — rei>resenlalive of all that is lofty - impelling
him however to stare straight into the sun, becoming as a result, crazed and
BataiJlr,*'Lc ba s materialisme el la
-L e gros orieil," Documenu,
no. 6 (1929),
In a 1926 drawin g of a nude , Cfiaeometti dcpici s this axial rotation b y ainllatin g the mout h
an d genitals. Thi s relationship is the formal i<lea as well l>ehin<l the leniale figure in ITu Coupteoi
the same year, and
is a common
molif in African
No More Play 81 Jacquti-Andre lioiffard. Photograph. Published ^ r tn Docunicnis. //. no. 5(1930).
No More
lioiffard. Photograph. Published
^ r
tn Docunicnis. //. no.
• <S>
Alberto aiacometii. Woman. J926. Ink on paper
7 by 5 inrhes.
82 Modernist Myths Man Ray. Photograph. Pubiishrd in Minotaure, no. 7(1935). l)lind.®' Th e obsession
Man Ray. Photograph. Pubiishrd in Minotaure,
no. 7(1935).
l)lind.®' Th e obsession with tlie sun proinote<l by the pineal (blind) eye is, then,
another instance of the collapse of the vertical into the horizontal, as man in his
disorientation literally and symbolically loses his head.®" Th e image of the man
with the hole at the top of his cranimn —another form of the acr/iAfl/^—connects
in this way to the experience of the labyrinth, the space of implosion, as the dis-
tinction is blurred between inside and outside, between begitnnng and end.
T h e blinding , cra/in g sun is the soleil pourri at which the Easte r Island
idols stare and to which Bataille consecrated his essay on Picasso's "rotting art."
But then, for Bataille, the entire problematic of modern painting subtends his
c(mception of the beginnings of arl as the representation of sacrifice, the sym-
bolic correlative of the mutilation of the human body. Th e space of this mutila-
tion is initially the cave or grotto of the prehistoric painters, (he first occupiers
of the ial)yrin(h. There art begins, but not with an act of self-duplication —as
the relationship of painting's origins with the myth of Narcissus would have it.
Th r live icxia
o n ihc pineal eye were
1927 an<l
Neve r
they ar e collectetl
the Oeuita
pp .
Sec, "Soleil {Kturri," wher e Batiiille speaks of'u n eire aiilliro|>oniorphr drpounu
<if tit/"
I hfllier in l.<i IMtt
dt la Conmdt,
discusses this notion of the chang e ol Jixis. pp.
I37-I:)4 .
;\'o More Play 8 3 Painting is born with man's refusal to reproduce himself, and
;\'o More Play
8 3
is born
refusal to reproduce
himself, and oul
of an
Thi s set of connections belween painting, a fascination with the sun, and
the mutilation of the body in an act of sacrificial madness, is spelled out in
Bataille's essay "La mutilation sacrificielle et I'oreille coupee de Vincent Va n
CJogh." For Bataille, Vati Gogh's is not an aberrant gesture but is entirely rep-
resentative of art's, archaic function. As one scholar of Bataille's work
explains , "Self-mutilatio n demand s lo be though t of as a n acl, in fact , ihe pic-
torial act par excellence. Becaus e paintin g is nothin g if it doesn' t strike at ilur ar -
chitecture of the huma n body; this architecture which, precisely, is not simple
because it implies self-mutilation.Th e Minotaur , not Narcissus, presides v
ove r th(> birt h of a n art in whic h representatio n rt^presenls alteration .
O n e after another. (5iacometti's gatneboard, horizontal sculptures enact
th e marriag e of th e field of representatio n wid i th e conditio n of th e base , th e
ground , ihir earth . Thi s rota(i<»n of the axis into the dimensio n of the physical is
th e shift of directio n of th e acephale. Fiut thes e rotate d work s shar e anothe r
aspect with the themes of the headless ma n and the labyrinth. For, with one ex-
ception , all
of the m carr y th e
furth<-r signilicatioti of death . "On nejoue plus^
ceives of the "sculpture" as a game, ils board cralered with semicircular hollows
modele d o n dj c African pebble gam e t';^' bu t into its cente r ar e sun k tw o tiny
Collins, (heir lids asktrw. 'Fhe literal space of the board on which pieces can be
moved in real time fuses with the image of the necropolis.
'Fh e LiUre Dictionary lists th e sheet tha t cover s a n empl y coffin a s on e of th e
prima l meaning s of representation. kepresoKation , a stand-i n fo r th e tiead , is
thus conceptually suspended between the symbolic and the real decay of mat-
ter— the precise condition of alteration. Bataille's notion of a "base materialism"
operates in (his very middle ground be(ween the literal and die symbolic, for il
conceive s th e entir e field of social relationship s a s wholl y structure d b y th e c(m-
ditions of representation, wliich is to say, language. Bui language is thought of
as a dir(r<-(ionless nutze in which, for exaniple, the sacred is (he function of die
ver>' condition s of th e wor d i(self: sacer, like altus, pointin g in lwt> directions ,
toward the blessed an<! (he danmed . Classical philosophy wishes to repress this
In "I
miiiilaiiun sacrifirirllc et rorcillc ampc c d e Vinteiii Va n Co^h. * Docummis, II, no. 8
(19.'t0), li.itaille al(a< k.v, lor e.yani|>le, I.U()nel's aei-eplani e of ihe "folded-linger" liy|Kjlhe.Nis (o ex-
plain die cave paintings in which siencilcd hand s are recorded with missing fingers {Otwtes Com-
filirlrs, vol. I. p. 267). A molifo f great faM'inatioii, the stenciled han d is used in Im Carmc(19.10).
90. Hollier. La /*nse dt la Concord/, p . 148,
91. I lohl mentionii woiNlen Ik'nin gamel>i>.irdH that Giacomnt i might have seen at the Charle s
Ration Gallery, which could have .served as a model for this work (Hohl, 1972. p. 299. fn. 27).
Railon , however , say x dia l n o Beni n ohjecl. s of ihi s ty|>f exisl . Instead , on e ha s onl y l u lur n l<i
the wooden gameboards for j, which are still being pniduccd today. The surfaces for diis game
were often improvised, hollowed out of the earth or in stone. Marcel CSriaule's dissert.uion &hows
such a boar d in stone ((Jriaule. 'Jeu x Dogons." Pans . 19.38. fiijure 95).
84 Modernist Myths doubleness and reconstruct a language in which each clement has a specific
doubleness and reconstruct a language in which each clement has a specific
value, and only one. It wants to build vertical monuments to cover over the
necmpolis where meaning burrows into the dirt of decay, contamination,
death. Th e space of this linguistic necropolis, in which language both forms
a n d represent s the real desires of the acephale, is the labyrinth .
T h e gameboar d of "On nejoue plus^ is not a readymade , its horizontality is
not th e unmodulate d topple of th e snow shove I of Duchatnp' s h Advance of a
liroken Arm. Th e gameboard , with its little pieces, is a representatio n in which
the symbolic is mad e a function of die base , the base in Bataille's sense {l>a.iexse),
a concept far from surrealist poetics, forged instead out of a vision of the
In 1933 Ctia(omirtti's art changed abruptly. H e began to work frotn life,
with models who posed in the studio, instead of making sculptures— as he later
said of his work of the early 1930s — that "used to come to me complete in my
mind."*' Th e break this precipitated with the surrealists left Giacomelti violently
hostile. H e declared that "everything he had made up to that time had been
masturbation an d that he had no other goal but to render a huma n head."'-'* As
part of this repudiation he is also nrported to have denied his connection lo
92 . Jame s I.«)rtl, A Gituomeiti Ponrait, j>. 48 . Se e Ciiatomclli' s actoun i in 'I x
palai s d e quairc s
93. Marre l Jean .
IHsloire dt la Peinlure sumalisle,
I'aris, Seuil,
1959, p.
Allftrlo Cta<omelli. "On ne joue plus" (No
Mor e
Play) .
;\'o More Play 85 primitive art, saying that if he had taken anything from objects
;\'o More Play
primitive art, saying that
if he had
taken anything from objects of this type it
wa s simpl y becaus e art negre was modis h durin g his early career .
What Giacometti was rejecting was not simply surrealism or a related
connection to tribal art. At a deeper, structural level, he renounced the
horizontal and everything il meant: both a dimension within which lo rethink
the formal concerns of .sculpture, and a matrix through which
huma n anatomy
was "altered." From 1935 on, he devoted himself to vertical sculpture. Having
made this decision, he left behind those two concerns ihat had worked together
generat e di e brillianc e t>f hi s wor k o f ih e earl y
'30s : th e bas e an d th e ])rimitive .
94. Il) (he late 1931)2! Giucuincui is rR]>i>nccl to hav r said
this to Gret a Knuison , then the wife of
Trista n
'J'/ara ,
Tor who m
h e
fo r
(a s
( o
m e
b y
Knutson' s
Madam e
'/'he game
Jeu x
tlogons ,