Viewers of the tall, elongated female figures and the ‘Walking Man’ respond to them in different ways. While the women seem remote and inaccessible, we approach the male with something more like empathy; we follow his hesitant gait, we identify with him. For Giacometti, such encounters are at the core of what it means to be a human being. A number of his sculptures bear witness to a phenomenon that Giacometti experienced as part of his artistic work every day after returning to the study of models in 1949, and one that he wants the viewer to share: the almost living presence of the other person. This perceptual situation corresponds less to Existentialism à la Sartre, in which the “I” is completely centred on itself, and consequently isolated, and experiences the “other” primarily as a threat, than to the relationship of dialogue between the self and the world, anchored in the body, that we see in the phenomenology of Merleau-Ponty. ‘The Cage’ can thus be understood as the representation in model form of Giacometti’s phenomenological realism: the head growing out of the box, as self-consciousness within its own conceptual space circumscribed by the framework, appropriates the image of the reality it encounters, reproduced as a statuette.
This absorption of the external within the self stands in contradistinction to the movement out into the world that is implicit in seeing and perceiving. In his ‘Four Figurines on a Stand’ Giacometti depicts four women, small and far away, beyond the receding perspective of the polished floor. The real topic is the visual and affective relationship of artist or viewer to reality as seen, conveyed through the form of the base. The highpoint of this series is ‘The Chariot’. The twofold movement of the process of perception, the tension between self-revelatory rapprochement and the withdrawal and retreat of the ultimately inexhaustible other, finds its most perfect visual expression in the metaphor of the chariot. This contraption, a half-floating pedestal construction, marks the threshold between the sphere of the figure and that of the viewer. It elevates the appearance of the archetypal woman to the status of an epiphany.