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China succumbs to charms of Giacometti

Larger than life: Giacometti and his sculptures in Beijing

An exhibition of photographs of Alberto Giacometti and his stick-like sculptures has pulled huge crowds in China.

Some 130,000 Chinese flocked to see Giacometti through the eyes, or more correctly through the camera lens, of his great friend Ernst Scheidegger. Housed in a museum next to Tiananmen Square, the exhibition - entitled "Two arts on a jade stone" - comprised 36 photographs of the artist and his sculptures.

"These photographs tell nothing but the truth," said the exhibition's curator, Huang Qi. "That is why they appeal to the Chinese - nothing didactic, nothing artificial."

Indeed, in the month since it opened the exhibition in Beijing attracted more people than it did in Zurich, where it was staged last year to mark the centenary of Giacometti's birth.

"Giacometti was a man who fascinated me from the very first we met," Scheidegger told swissinfo. "These pictures cover at least 25 years - they tell the story of Alberto's life and the way he worked."

It is nevertheless remarkable that so many Chinese took the trouble to visit an exhibition of photographs, even if it featured the lined face of one of Switzerland's most famous artists and his characteristic stick-like interpretations of the human form.

"Infatuation with everything Western"

One reason was the publicity. "The media gave exceptional coverage to the event," says Scheidegger. As well as a deluge of articles in the press, Chinese television ran items about the show on at least 50 occasions.

Gérald Béroud, an expert on China, says it also has to do with a growing and "an amazing infatuation with everything Western".

The Beijing exhibition closed on Tuesday, with several Swiss officials attending the final day. State secretary, David Syz, who is leading a business delegation to China, said Switzerland deserved to be proud of the interest that Giacometti and his photographer had attracted in China. "Art can help to bring very diverse cultures closer together," he observed.

Beijing was the last stop for the exhibition, which opened in Shanghai in December 2000 and has since been seen in 16 cities. "Maybe we will try a similar experiment in Malaysia," says Huang Qi.

Any Chinese who missed it can pop into any one of 600 libraries across the country which were given books of the photographs on display.

by Marzio Pescia, Beijing


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