Alberto Giacometti died in Chur in his native Switzerland 50 years ago today (11 January). His spindly bronze figures had already come to define Modern art when he died at just 64. One such work, L’homme au doigt (1947), broke the record for the most expensive sculpture sold at auction when it fetched $141.3m at Christie’s in May.
The National Portrait Gallery’s exhibition, Pure Presence, which closed yesterday (10 January), focused on a lesser-known aspect of Giacometti’s practice: portraits. But his paintings, drawings and sculptures of his family, friends and muses still drew sizeable crowds; a spokesman for the gallery says around 48,500 people have seen the show since it opened in October.
Further exhibitions and projects launching this year to coincide with the anniversary of Giacometti’s death include a part-selling show of 19 sculptures created between 1925 and 1934 opening at Luxembourg & Dayan in London on 2 February (until 9 April). Most works have not been seen in the UK before, including a plaster self-portrait, which was shown at Giacometti’s first exhibition in 1927 at Galerie Jeanne Bucher in Paris. Several pieces have been loaned by museums, including the Kunsthaus Zürich.
The exhibition centres on a letter Giacometti wrote in 1947 to his New York dealer and friend Pierre Matisse, which reveals the artist’s doubts about his work. During this often-overlooked period, Giacometti began to reject traditional sculptural techniques in favour of Cubism and Surrealism, sowing the seeds for the elongated sculptural figures for which he became so famous.
The letter is a “rare and unique example of a 20th-century testimony of an artist’s struggle with depiction,” says the gallery owner Daniella Luxembourg.
Meanwhile, a new exhibition centre and research space is due to open later this year in the 14th arrondissement in Paris where Giacometti had a studio for several decades, according to the New York Times. The artist’s 270 sq. ft studio is due to be recreated as part of the Institut Giacometti, which will function as an outpost of the Fondation Alberto et Annette Giacometti.
The foundation, which is publishing Giacometti’s first catalogue raisonné, is also lending works for a retrospective due to open at Tate Modern in 2017.