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  • Writer's pictureRossella BLUE Mocerino

Giacometti in Montparnasse: his Studio & the Man

Updated: Jul 10

Giacometti's Studio Overall View

If we can still visit Alberto Giacometti's studio, we owe it to his widow Annette. When his studio had to be vacated in 1972, she decided to take everything including the walls painted by her husband and recreate his studio in its current location at the Giacometti Institute in Paris. You can take it in at a glance - a tiny space of 23 square meters that served as his studio and living quarters from 1926 until his death in 1966. His elongated figures, his busts, a seated figure welcome you and you have a strange feeling that Giacometti will be back soon and with a cigarette in his mouth, he will put on his glasses, carelessly thrown on top of his tools and he will move swiftly from sculpture to sculpture adding here, carving there while perhaps waiting for a fellow artist or friend to pose for him.

Giacometti's studio with glasses

Giacometti's studio with couch

The French poet and art critic Alain Jouffroy describes Giacometti's studio:

One has the impression that there is nobody behind this gray door, with dusty windows; an old piece of fabric prevents you from seeing through the window of this small atelier. I push the door. Among tall white sculptures, unfinished or half destroyed, under an electric lamp which very violently illuminates the wall with faded pink and yellow colors, near a small couch covered with newspapers, books and a few canvases against a wall, here is Giacometti, silent, seated on a high stool, in the process of sculpting a figure in clay.

Giacometti's studio with busts

I certainly do painting and sculpture and always have, since the first time I drew or painted, to bite into reality, to defend myself, to nourish myself . . . to move forward as much as possible on all levels, in all directions, to defend myself against hunger, the cold, against death, to be as free as possible to work - with the means which are the most appropriate today. . . to see better, to understand better what surrounds me . . .

Giacometti's studio with easel

No sculpture ever dethrones any other. A sculpture is never an object, it is an interrogation, a question, a response. It cannot be finished nor perfect. The question is never repeated. For Michelangelo, with the Pietà Rondanini, his last sculpture, all starts again. And for a thousand years, Michelangelo could have continued to sculpt pietas without repeating himself, without going back, without ever finishing anything, always going further.

Giacometti's studio with heads

Sculpture is not, for me, a beautiful decorative object but a way to try to understand a little better what attracts me and confuses me in any head . . . If successful, a sculpture will be a way to say to others, to communicate to others what I see.

. . . I would like to do landscapes, but I am reduced to heads at the moment. Because if we have a head, we would have everything else; if we don't have the head, we have nothing; for me, anyway.

Giacometti's studio with seated figure

Have you ever seen perfect paintings? I've never seen one. This is one of the characteristics of art, moreover. An airplane propeller to work must be perfect, a wine glass to be usable must not be chipped. On the other hand, a work of art is always only a partial vision of the external world, always precarious too. In painting, in sculpture as in poetry, there can be no perfection. This is what makes them interesting, their virulence or their violence. I told you, but the bad paintings of a painter interest me as much as the good ones. There is no difference for me. In any case, we exaggerate the importance we give to Art with a capital A. The majority of living people do without it royally.

Giacometti's studio with tall figures

French journalist Pierre Dumayet: Why is she so small?

It's not my fault. It was in 1937. As it was still impossible to get a head right, I wanted to do whole figures. I started them big like that (Giacometti shows the length of his arm) ; they became like this (half the thumb). This continued throughout the war. Working every day, doing nothing else. I started big like that and when it was over, it was small like that. It was diabolical.

And did you understand why they were getting smaller?

I understood it afterwards. The sculpture I wanted to make of this woman was indeed the very precise vision I had of her at the moment I saw her in the street, at a certain distance. I therefore tended to give her the grandeur that was hers when she was at that distance.

In other words, the extraordinary lengthening of your women and men comes from the fact that, through discipline, you refused to let them diminish?

Eh yes.

You never see people life size anymore?

Never again, never again; never again.

Giacometti's studio with dog

As I prepare to leave Giacometti's studio, I catch a glimpse of this forlon sculpture of a dog. I undestand it was modeled after his friend Picasso's Afghan hound. Giacometti identified with a solitary and stray dog. His art after all falls outside any artistic movement. It is simply his vision.

Giacometti Studio can be found at 5 Rue Victor Schoelcher in the Montparnasse area of Paris.

Giacometti's quotes were taken from three booklets which you can purchase at Giacometti Institute: Pourqouis Je Suis Sculpteur, Je Fais Certainment De La Peinture, Le rêve, Le Sphinx Et La Mort de T. The translation from French to English falls on my shoulders.


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