Skip to main content
Open Access Publications from the University of California


UCLA Electronic Theses and Dissertations bannerUCLA

Hollow Man: Alberto Giacometti and the Crisis of the Monument, 1935–45


This dissertation presents the first extended analysis of Alberto Giacometti’s sculpture between 1935 and 1945. In 1935, Giacometti renounced his abstract Surrealist objects and began producing portrait busts and miniature figures, many no larger than an almond. Although they are conventionally dismissed as symptoms of a personal crisis, these works unfold a series of significant interventions into the conventions of figurative sculpture whose consequences persisted in Giacometti’s iconic postwar work. Those interventions — disrupting the harmonious relationship of surface to interior, the stable scale relations between the work and its viewer, and the unity and integrity of the sculptural body — developed from Giacometti’s Surrealist experiments in which the production of a form paradoxically entailed its aggressive unmaking. By thus bridging Giacometti’s pre- and postwar oeuvres, this decade-long interval merges two distinct accounts of twentieth-century sculpture, each of which claims its own version of Giacometti: a Surrealist artist probing sculpture’s ambivalent relationship to the everyday object, and an Existentialist sculptor invested in phenomenological experience. This project theorizes Giacometti’s artistic crisis as the collision of these two models, concentrated in his modest portrait busts and tiny figures.

Giacometti’s crisis moreover coincided with political and social crises in France and Switzerland in the 1930s and 40s. The rhetoric addressing these crises took up the terms of figurative sculpture to describe the destabilization of national self-representation: a loss of face, the inability to form a cohesive image of the body-politic, and the dissolving boundaries of the individual citizen. These metaphorical “figurations of crisis” are refracted in Giacometti’s crisis of figuration through its disruptions of the surface, scale relations, and integrity of figurative sculpture. Tracking these resonances, this dissertation articulates concrete and contextualized terms for the artistic crisis at its center — not as shambolic breakdown, but as a form and experience of substance attained through processes of destruction.

Main Content
For improved accessibility of PDF content, download the file to your device.
Current View