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Arts

Giacometti retrospective shows his personal side

Artist Alberto Giacometti is famous for his long, slender human figures. The family who knew him well is now showing a 170-piece retrospective that includes never before displayed works - and a new side of the artist.

Alberto Giacometti, pictured in La Stampa in 1964

Giacometti (1901-1966) is considered one of the greatest surrealist sculptors

Gallery owner Aime Maeght was a close friend of Alberto Giacometti for more than 20 years. His gallery in Paris was already famous for representing Pierre Bonnard, Henri Matisse and Georges Braque when he met the Swiss artist and agreed to sell his work.

Out of the working relationship a close friendship evolved.

"He was the most free man I've ever known," said Aime Maeght's son Adrien Maeght, about Giacometti, explaining that the artist was good at dealing with his friends in unique ways.

"He didn't mix the poet with the artist. He didn't mix the artist with the technician. I was the technician and he didn't speak to me as to a poet. We were good friends because I worked with Alberto to make lithographs and etchings."

Penchant for jokes

Auctioneer Henry Wyndam sells the sculpture Walking Man I (L'Homme qui marche I) by Alberto Giacometti at Sotheby's in London, on Feb. 3, 2010

Giacometti's "Walking Man" sold for a record 65 million pounds ($104 million) at Sotheby's in February

Giacometti worked in many styles, but is best remembered for the elongated, emaciated human figures he created after 1947, like "Walking Man" or "Standing Woman." These works seem to embody a sense of existential isolation and tragedy. Maeght said that while some people thought the artist often had a sad look on his face, "he was a man who liked to play, liked to make a joke."

Adrien Maeght, now 89 years old and president of the Fondation Maeght, remembers many details of Giacometti's life. He said he insisted on living very simply, in a small studio with a clay floor, even though he could have afforded a better apartment.

Maeght recalled the time when a wealthy American collector visited Giacometti in Paris and wanted to buy a statue of a standing woman. When he returned the next day, asking to see the statue again, it had disappeared.

Exactly why Giacometti had destroyed his statue during the night is unclear, though perhaps he did not like the idea of a wealthy collector putting a price - even a high one - on one of his works.

Family art business

The Fondation Maeght remains very much the family enterprise it was when Adrien Maeght's parents founded it in 1964. Giacometti was among the guests at the opening, along with artists Marc Chagall and Joan Miro.

According to Adrien Maeght's daughter, Isabelle, Giacometti was more than just one of the artists. He remained a close family friend until his death in 1966.

Isabelle Maeght curated the 170-piece Giacometti retrospective that is on display through October 31 at the Fondation Maeght in Saint Paul, France. A large number of the works already belonged to the foundation. Others came from the family's collection, and the rest from private collectors, said Isabelle Maeght.

"For me it was not difficult because I know the works, I know where they are and I know the collectors. I prefer to have 10 masterpieces than 30 works," she added.

Alberto Giacometti, Self-portrait, 1921

Alberto Giacometti, self-portrait, 1921

Indeed, masterpieces abound at the exhibition, some which have never before been displayed publically. In addition to two sculptures of "Walking Man," there are early works from Giacometti’s surrealist period, including his "Spoon Woman," cubist works like "The Cube" and self portraits showing the artist as a young man.

Along with sculpture, drawing and paintings, the exhibition also incorporates letters and photographs, providing a comprehensive and intimate portrait of the artist.

Great uncles

"Everybody thinks he was sad," said Isabelle Maeght of Giacometti. "In fact, he loved to laugh, loved to joke. For me he is a wonderful uncle."

Giacometti, who died when Isabelle Maeght was 11 years old, wasn't the girl's only honorary uncle. Great artists like Joan Miro, Marc Chagall and Alexander Calder also became adopted members of the Fondation Maeght family.

Author: Mariana Schroeder, Saint Paul/kjb

Editor: Cyrus Farivar

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