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Monday, May 12, 2014

Alberto Giacometti

Alberto Giacometti Self-portrait, 1921
Walking Man I, 1960, Alberto Giacometti
The prices paid for paintings at auction in recent years have soared well past the $100-million mark. The current record holder is Austrian artist Gustave Klimt for his Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer painted in 1907, which sold for $135-million in 2006. However persistent rumor has it one of Jackson Pollock's paintings may recently have sold for as much as $140-million. The record price for a work of sculpture is held by a Swiss sculptor named Alberto Giacometti (above). Care to take a guess as to the price tag on his 1960 Walking Man I (right)? If it helps any, it's the first in a series of six similar pieces, cast in bronze. It appears to be (nears as I can tell) about eight feet tall. If you guessed less than $100-million you guessed too low. The actual price attained in 2010 was $104,327,000. Giacometti was born in 1901 and died of heart failure in 1966 (a heavy smoker). Too bad he couldn't have brought that price during his lifetime, he could have used the money.
Standing Figure with Face, 1947, Alberto Giacometti
Diego in a Cloak, 1954,
Alberto Giacometti
As you might have already noticed from his self-portrait (top) Giacometti's paintings look nothing like his sculptures. They do, however, bear a certain resemblance to his drawings as seen in his Standing figure with Face (above) dating from 1947. Alberto Giacometti came from a whole family of artists. His father, Giovanni Giacometti was an Impressionist painter, both he and his work bearing a strong resemblance to Vincent van Gogh. Van Gogh was about fifteen years older. Giovanni and his wife Annetta had a daughter and three sons, Alberto, Diego, and Bruno. Alberto and Diego both became sculptors (their work quite similar) while Bruno became an architect. Alberto often used his friends and family as models. His brother, Diego in a Cloak (left, 1954) is an example. It went for a mere $27-million at auction. A painting by Alberto of his brother recently sold for $33-million.

Make Room, 1948, Alberto Giacometti--stick figures now worth millions.
Surrealist Table, 1933, Alberto
Giacometti (his sister).
Alberto Giacometti studied first at the School of Fine Arts in Geneva, then moved on to Paris to study sculpture under Antoine Bourdelle former student of Rodin. Initially, he dabbled in Cubism, then fell in with the Surrealists, Max Ernst, Salvador Dalí, Man Ray, Hans Arp, Joan Miró, Marcel Duchamp, and of course, their leader, Andre Breton. Before long however, Giacometti became disillusioned with the Surrealists and their unconscious and subconscious dreams, and sexual imagery. He denounced them as mere parlor games. He decided to pursue a much deeper reality and to work from models once again. The Surrealists, particularly Breton, was aghast at such a betrayal. They kicked him out of their group. Many of them never spoke to him again. The break cost him dearly in terms of commissions and sales of his work as he began to concentrate on expressionistic heads and to turn to existentialism. His works grew larger, but also thinner, a style that was to become his trademark.

Dog, 1958, Alberto Giacometti (I'll bet he thought long an hard about that title.)
Skeletal Giacometti Sculpture on Parisian
Street, 1951, Alberto Giacometti,
Photo by Gordon Parks
What might have been his big break, a chance to gain a reputation in the International world of art, came in 1958 when the Chase Manhattan Bank in New York commissioned him to create a sculpture to go in front of their new skyscraping headquarters. Alas, after several attempts, Giacometti was unable to match his sculptural image of the female figure he envisioned with the actual site, which seemed totally foreign to him. He never completed the work. It wasn't until four years later when he won a gold medal at the 1962 Venice Biennale, along with the prestige and publicity that went along with it, that Giacometti's work began to bring the respectable prices foreshadowing the enormous sales figures paid today for his monumental bronze stick figures.

Giacometti at work in his studio around 1954.
He often painted his mental images before sculpting them.


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