Guggenheim
Bola Suspendida | Obras | Alberto Giacometti | Guggenheim Bilbao Museoa
Alberto Giacometti
Suspended Ball (Boule suspendue), 1930–1931

Plaster, painted metal, and string
60.6 x 35.6 x 36.1 cm
Fondation Giacometti, Paris
© Alberto Giacometti Estate / VEGAP, Bilbao, 2018

Introduction

“For years, I have made the sculptures that have offered themselves, already finished, to my spirit; I have limited myself to reproducing them in space, without changing anything about them, without wondering what they might signify.” [1]

Alberto Giacometti was born in 1901 in Borgonovo (Switzerland). He always lived in an artistic milieu, as his father was an Neo-impressionist painter. In 1922 he went to live in Paris, where he was to reside until his death in 1966. He soon started to show an interest in the Surrealist movement, which he belonged to from 1930 to 1935. Suspended Ball, created between 1930 and 1931, belongs to this early Surrealist period. The work consists of two solids inside an open iron cage: a sphere with a cleft, suspended in the air, and a semicircular form with two planes resembling a crescent moon, whose edge is rubbed by the constantly swinging ball. The contact between the two bodies produced by this movement can arouse a strange sense of unease.

It was precisely the founder of the Surrealist movement, André Breton, who discovered and acquired this piece, and he became a friend of the artist’s from then on. Giacometti’s very personal style drew the interest of a number of prestigious artists and intellectuals of the time. Salvador Dalí considered the work Suspended Ball (1930–31) to be the prototype of the Surrealist “object with a symbolic function” with a violent or erotic content.

Following the Surrealist poetics and trends of the 1920s and 1930s, Giacometti explored themes like introspection, dreams, and madness, incorporating the imaginary universe of everyday objects into his works. The influence of the artistic movement soon became visible in dreamlike creations and strange images representing inner worlds. In an article published the same year as this work was made, Giacometti himself remarked on the enormous and inexplicable attraction he felt for a great many objects. [2]

On the other hand, it was important to Giacometti to make a type of sculpture where he left no trace of his own, meaning pieces where his input, his manipulation, and his calculations could not be apprehended. As he said himself, he only developed sculptures that “occurred to him” fully finished in his mind, making their materialization a simple and almost boring process. For this reason, he referred to his works as “projections”.

For the period, the most innovative aspect of Suspended Ball is its use of real movement. Until then, sculpture had always been regarded as static. Because the ball swings like a pendulum, the viewer perceives actual movement, not an illusion of it created by the artwork. Motion exists here in a physical, concrete, and objective way, not just as plastic form. It is real, and so its temporal medium is the real time of the viewer’s experience.

Questions

Look closely at this work. How would you describe it? What geometrical shapes can you see in it? What do you think these objects are? What kind of relationship do they appear to have? How do you think your perception of the work would change if the geometrical forms were different—a pyramid and a cube, for example?

Describe how you think the artist made the work, step by step. What sensations would you feel if you touched it? Why?

The piece was made out of plaster, metal, and string. What do you see as the characteristics of each of these materials? What qualities do they suggest to you? What do you associate with plaster? And with metal and string? If you could make a similar artwork with other materials, which would you choose?

The title of this piece is Suspended Ball. What might you add as a subtitle?

If you look carefully, you will see that the solid pieces in the center move and even rub slightly against each other. If you could hear them touching, what do you think it would sound like? Which music might you choose as an accompaniment for this movement? Choose a song that might go well with the piece. Why do you think the work has brought this music into your mind?

One of the most innovative aspects of this sculpture is its movement. The sphere can swing like a pendulum, which determines a relationship with the space, including a traversed space, as well as producing friction between one object and another. According to the artist, at that time he could not stand the idea that a sculpture should merely give a fictional illusion of movement, and so he tried hard to conceive of a movement that would be real and effective. What do you think of this idea? Do you think an artwork is more significant when it really moves than when it produces an illusion of movement? Give reasons for your answers. The movement generated by the piece was revolutionary in its day. Why do you think this might have been?

Activities
Modeling and building stories

First, model two different geometrical forms out of clay. Choose the form (cube, cylinder, pyramid, sphere, hemisphere, etc.), its consistency, its weight, its size, and the type of surface (totally smooth, rough, lined, etc.). Then form groups of three. With the six pieces in each group, make a composition in which they are related to one another. Think hard about how you want to arrange the space of your piece. For instance, you can lay them on a flat surface like a table or a stand, you can hang them from a structure with threads or strings, or you can even arrange them vertically on a wall. The important thing is to reflect on the relationship between the different volumes and establish patterns of movement between them.

Next invent a story about your composition in which every geometrical figure plays a particular role and has a special significance of its own. Starting from Giacometti’s idea that objects have an imaginary universe, write a story about the “secret” life of your figures. Who are they? What do they do? What happens to them? How does it all end?

Investigate and relate to other artists

In the 20th century, many artists in different contexts and with different sensibilities became interested in exploring the relationship between movement and space in their sculpture. Some of them were Alexander Calder, Leandre Cristófol and Ángel Ferrant, but there were many more. In a group, investigate the work of some of these artists, choose the one you find most interesting, and think about the following questions. What relationship is there between your artist’s interests and Giacometti’s? What similarities and differences are there between them? Besides geometrical figures, what other figures are used to work with the idea of motion, oscillation, and the occupation of space? Share your work with other groups.

VOCABULARY

Surrealism: a literary and artistic movement that emerged in France, and whose first manifesto was drafted by the poet and critic André Breton in 1924. This school of thought emphasized the role of the unconscious in creative activity. The poet Guillaume Apollinaire, a precursor of the movement, coined the term Surréalisme in 1917 in reference to the attempt to transcend the real through the psychic impulse of the imaginary and irrational.

Solids: solid geometry is the branch of geometry concerned with voluminous geometrical figures that occupy space, exploring their properties and measurements in three dimensions. These figures, also called solids, are the cone, the cube, the cylinder, the pyramid, the sphere, the prism, and the various polyhedra.

RESOURCES

https://www.fondation-giacometti.fr/en/database/163611/suspended-ball

http://proa.org/documents/Giacometti-PressKit.pdf

NOTES

[1] Published in Minotaure, no. 3–4, December 1933, p. 46.

http://proa.org/documents/Giacometti-PressKit.pdf

[2] “All things… those that are near and far, all those that are past and future, all those that move, my friends, change (one passes next to them, they move away), others approach, rise, descend, ducks in the water, here and there, in space, they go up and down…” (Text published in the journal Le Surréalisme au service de la Révolution in 1931).