Giacometti: James Lord’s biography – essential reading: excerpts, aperçus & porte-paroles therefrom with added emphases, emboldenments, bignesses and an inversion, or two

We know that Denise sniffed ether, had a fierce temper, and that concurrently with Alberto she had another lover: a man called Dédé le Raisin because he sold fruit in the street from a barrow. Alberto, Dédé, and Denise apparently got along well together, and upon occasion, it is said, enjoyed together the conclusive demonstrations of intimacy.

– James Lord, Giacometti: A Biography, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York, 1986, p. 126

The paradox of Surrealism is that it was the group unconscious Surrealists appealed to, the unconscious of the Surrealist group itself; work was considered and duly judged by fellow Surrealists according to whether others could see in the individual’s work an expression of their own fantasy. Thus the fantasy lay in being disowned in order to be owned, or bought, first by the group, figuratively; secondly, literally, by the art-patron or buyer. Individuals within the group required and the group itself demanded the legitimation of belonging.

All of the Surrealists were dedicated to the purpose of [producing, like Giacometti, works which openly refer to private, hidden aspects of human experience], and the common cause no doubt disposed each of them more freely to realise highly individual works.

“There was clearly a Surrealist atmosphere that influenced me,” Alberto later said. “I wanted my sculptures to be interesting, mean something to other people. I had this need of other people, and was very conscious of reaching them or not.”

– Ibid., p. 127

– Alberto Giacometti, reminding me of Martòn

Giacometti: “I think that the best way for an artist to be a revolutionary is do his work as well as possible.”

– Ibid., p. 131

the singular style of James Lord:

If detainment by the police entails a sense of guilt, the extent of its presumption need not derive from a rational judgment of the facts. He had kept the light burning at night in his bedroom for years, but it had averted nothing.

– Ibid., p. 136

Picasso attends Giacometti’s first solo exhibition, in May 1932, at Galerie Pierre Colle, 19 Rue Cambacérès

On the opening day, one of the first to arrive was Pablo Picasso, alert as ever to the latest innovations and ready to turn them to advantage in his own work when possible.

– Ibid., p. 140

Giacometti: “I knew …that no matter what I did, no matter what I wanted, I would be obliged someday to sit down on a stool in front of a model and try to copy what I saw. Even if there was no hope of succeeding. I dreaded in a way being obliged to come to that, and I knew that it was inevitable … I dreaded it, but I hoped for it. Because the non-figurative works I was doing then were finished once and for all. To go on would have been to produce works of the same kind, but all adventure was finished. So that didn’t interest me a bit.”

– Ibid., pp. 153-4

the screen is consciousness, or we are the consciousness of the screen

Giacometti: “The more I looked at the model … the more the screen between his reality and mine grew thicker. One starts by seeing the person who poses, but little by little all the possible sculptures of him intervene. The more real vision of him disappears, the stranger his head becomes. One is no longer sure of his appearance, or of his size, or of anything at all. There were too many sculptures between my model and me. And when there were no more sculptures, there was such a complete stranger that I no longer knew whom I saw or what I was looking at.”

– Ibid., p. 165

On Balthus announcing himself “superbly,” if illegitimately to be a count

But snobbery is no adequate explanation for such an overt idiosyncracy on the part of a man so sensitive and subtle. The aristocratic pose did not signify vulgarity of spirit. Aristocracy seems to have represented for Balthus a rather austere distinction of personal bearing, one which he apparently felt he could not achieve solely through his art. If it was necessary to his creative fulfillment to be a count, the necessity sprang from a determination to live and work according to criteria no longer instrumental in the modern world and which, therefore, Balthus could not hope to satisfy either as a man or as an artist.

– Ibid., p. 169

Balthus’s modernity is to do with his subject matter?

Balthus was able to relate himself to a tradition through the power of an obsessive, almost perverse relation to his subject matter, the passionate detachment with which he depicted young girls, and even landscapes, as elements of a fantasy world.

– Ibid., p. 170

the truth of difference, among other Deleuzian themes, like, for instance, that of the virtual as eternally potential

Truth in art and truth in life are not the same. But the two must unite in the creative act if it is to have significant consequences, which is to say that a work of art will be “true to life” when its existence, and its very form, embodies the truths of the artist’s life. A work of art can then serve the ancillary purpose of revealing those truths. The artist himself, however, exists inside his truth: he can see what he is only by seeing what he does. What he does remains eternally potential rather than actual, so that he can truly become himself only by dying.

– Ibid., p. 227 [emphases added]

– Diego Giacometti in his studio

how beautiful stories involving animals come to accumulate around Diego Giacometti an eminently moral story

One spring morning Diego found that during the night a spider had spun its web near the door to his room, in front of the gas meter. It gleamed in the morning light. Awed by the airy perfection of form, Diego searched for the architect capable of producing in a single night this exquisite construction. He was amazed to discover a tiny yellow creature hardly larger than a grain of rice. Such industry and ingenuity seemed to deserve a recompense, and Diego determined to help the spider make the most of its web. All that spring and summer, holding up saucers of severely rationed jam, he shooed the flies attracted to it into the threads. This abundance was more than the lucky arachnid could devour all at once, and the surplus flies were bound in silk, carried up to the ceiling, and suspended there for future consumption like so many hams from the rafters of an Italian salumeria. When the inspector from the gas company came to read the meter and prepared to brush away the web, Diego persuaded him to spare it. However, the beautiful thing he had wished to preserve was eventually ruined as the outcome of his care. He could supply subsistence for the spider, but he could not ensure the perfection of the web. As its creator grew fatter and fatter, accumulating more and more “hams” in reserve, it had less incentive to maintain a facility for entrapping victims. The web grew ragged and dusty, while its obese architect dwelt complacently in the ruins. At last, the spider died of old age. Diego preserved the delicate skeleton in a little box until it crumbled to dust, but thirty years later he still recalled the spider with affection, and spoke with wonder of the gleaming structure it had woven in one night in his drab room.

– Ibid., pp. 232-3

– Annette & Alberto in the studio at 46 Rue Hippolyte-Maindron, 1951

pauvre Annette née Arm and the inimitable style of James Lord

The passion, and rashness, of her anxiety may be measured by the fact that while making the break she more than once attempted to commit suicide; this unhappy information was later confided to a Japanese professor of philosophy with whom she fell in live and he pensively recorded it in his diary.

– Ibid., p. 234

– Diego Giacometti

how beautiful stories involving animals come to accumulate around Diego Giacometti pt. II, a fox from Auschwitz, another eminently moral story

as if in symbolic acknowledgement of his self-reliance, the war had brought him from its worst hell a little playmate: a fox from Auschwitz.

One of Diego’s neighbours had been a member of the Resistance, arrested by the Gestapo, tortured, and deported to the infamous concentration camp. Contrary to reasonable expectation, he not only survived but somehow in that pit of inhumanity managed to catch, tame, and feed a baby vixen. Repatriated after the liberation of the camp, he brought back his pet to Paris, where he kept her on a chain in his apartment. It was there that Diego first saw her. Outraged, he angrily demanded how a man who had endured – and survived! – the horrors of a concentration camp could bring a wild animal eight hundred miles from home only to keep it chained in a dark apartment? Chagrined, the former prisoner offered his pet to Diego, who gladly took her back to the rue Hippolyte-Maindron. He named her Miss Rose for the colour of her fur. … [Diego] delighted in her slyness and intelligence. sometimes she would play dead, lying on her back on the floor, eyes closed and jaws slack. He could roll her over or pick her up by the tail and shake her without a sign of life. If he turned away, feigning indifference, she would spring onto his shoulders and nip the nape of his neck. … The vulpine odour was intense, permeating everything … The war, it is true, had uprooted many millions from their homes and swept them to terrible destinations. Of these millions, Miss Rose was but one, and one of the least, yet for those sensitive to the animal spirit perhaps her very insignificance gave her singular meaning, while a sense of animal virtue as contrasted with human bestiality was fostered by knowledge of the place from which she had come. Diego was by nature unworldly and self-effacing, aloof, reticent, secretive, not one to commit himself impulsively to any attachment, but during the months of waiting for his brother’s return he became very attached to Miss Rose.

– Ibid., pp. 242-3

– Giacometti, Walking Man

the vision

When Giacometti entered the theatre, he was committing himself to a situation set apart from direct experience of reality but devised for the credibility of the visual. This comes easily to most people in the blind belief that things are not only as they appear but can remain stable in an uncertain world. Giacometti had long been peering beyond stable appearances in order to analyse, if possible, the sensory process itself, and adapt its means to the end of his creative purpose. This effort, of course, would never be done, and had to be sustained by conceptual confrontations with the unknown. These could not be commanded by the artist but came in their own good time, turning to account his visual vicissitudes with a will of their own. The movie theatre was the perfect place for an encounter of this kind, because the seeming
credibility of the visual challenges the power of vision to make use of illusion not only as an aspect of reality but as an access to further perception. There is a lovely logic in the fact that the images which suddenly appeared unintelligible to Giacometti remained perfectly intelligible to his neighbours, who were by the same token so transformed in the sight of the artist that only the full resources of illusion could hope to register his vision of their reality. For years he had been making and remaking miniscule sculptures which to most people looked like meaningless specks. Now a convulsion within the matrix of appearances would compel him to make his sculptures lifelike by making them look only like themselves.

– Ibid., p. 259-60 [emphasis added]

more on the miniscule figures

he kept after the figures which brought him repeatedly to the frontier between being and nothingness. It was there that vision compelled him to situate the proof that sculpture was a continuing possibility.

– Ibid., p. 201 [bigness added]

– Giacometti, Walking Man [my inversion]

revelatory vision revisited

The former experience had been the instant of revelation in the theatre. It was not the opposite, however, so much as affirmation of the same awareness, induced by an inversion of the same experience. He had seen death in the faces of the living; now he had seen once more that the dead reveal the truth about life. Sight begot terror in both cases. The man schooled in terror is a man prepared for possibility, because he will expect nothing and therefore be ready for everything. A man familiar with anxiety will look at the world with awe, because each day duplicates the miracle of birth. Inured to absurdity, he will become more and more free to assert the significance of life.

– Ibid., p. 269

for passion and class

If he had been indifferent, he would have been polite.

– Ibid., p. 271


Alberto and Montandon also talked about the dimensions of heads, the dimensions of objects, the relationships and differences between objects and human beings, which led back – as though by an itinerary which compels every man to rediscover incessantly the landscape of his lifetime – to the dream.

– Ibid., p. 274

… a large exhibition in a great world centre …

– Ibid., p. 282

discontinuity of consciousness likened to a discontinuous regeneration of creative potential, virtuality

To him, nothing was ever final. The act of creation was endless and unpredictable, starting anew each day, if not each hour.

– Ibid., p. 283

on the existential interpretation of Giacometti by Sartre

Alberto was never motivated by anything so obvious as a desire to represent the contemporary psyche.

– Ibid., p. 288 [bigness added]

a perfectly beautiful paragraph

Annette wanted to get married. That should have been unthinkable. But she didn’t think. Having become important to her lover in his work as well as in his life, she must have assumed that she could risk putting her importance to the test. It was too bad, because that test in the long run could only have one result, and the risk for her was final. She appreciated his importance greatly, since she loved him, and her appreciation seemed to be the logic of her claim, but she understood very little about his significance, since it had nothing to do with love. The grounds for union were, consequently, shaky. And yet she was tenacious in pursuit of matrimony. Her lover turned evasive. The thing was difficult for both.

– Ibid., pp. 299-300 [with added boldness]

Art uses life, and the extent of the use gives the moral of the work.

– Ibid., p. 307

eternal feminine or cherchez la femme

women standing alone or in groups on massive pedestals, the latter identified by the artist as prostitutes he had seen either at the Sphinx or in a small hotel room, where in the first case he perceived them to unapproachably remote, though desirable, and in the second, very close, hence threatening.

– – Ibid., pp. 308-9

the theory bizo, the art racket

Intellectual testimonials were all to the good, providing a creditable basis upon which values less intrinsic to civilization could skillfully be settled. With these in place, there would be no limit to the heights profitably scaled by down-to-earth entrepreneurs. That was where the expertise of art dealers came in. There could be no doing without them, nor did Giacometti try.

– Ibid., p. 339

a deformed man suddenly stripped naked, who would see revealed a deformity which at the same time he would offer to the world as evidence of his solitude and his glory.

– Genet, quoted in ibid., p. 350

– Jean Genet

on Genet

He believed that betrayal was akin to death in the absolutism of its beauty

– Ibid., p. 351

Genet on the feet

By the head, the shoulders, the arms, the pelvis he enlightens us. By the feet he enchants us.

– Genet, quoted in ibid., p. 357

Giacometti and other people

… no, longing to work immediately, be calm content soon, but everything’s complicated and other people.

– Giacometti quoted in ibid., p. 396

Alberto & Caroline, in the underworld

Before that night in May, it had been potential but not essential. By vanished from his sight, Caroline gave the artist the opportunity to prove his powers by restoring her to it. It was the chance of a lifetime. For them both. If he could bring her back from oblivion, he could take her with him into eternity. As for her, she had proved to him that she was a figure of the underworld by enabling him to resurrect her from it.

– – Ibid., p. 415

– Giacometti, Caroline, 1965

Chère Caroline

Her understanding … was not required. What was wanted was her identity.

– Ibid., p. 421


With Diego’s assistance, of course, Alberto made a marvelously curvaceous, dendriform creation in plaster. Then he and Beckett, both of them eternally unsatisfied, fiddled and fiddled with it. “All one night,” Alberto said, “we tried to make that plaster tree larger or smaller, its branches more slender. It never seemed right, and each of said to the other: maybe.”

– Ibid., p. 429

Giacometti on the machinic nature of abstract art, its ramifications, over time

Speaking of abstract art, he said: “It creates and seeks to create a self-contained object, as self-contained and as finished as a machine, without reference to anything beyond itself. Now the question arises how to define this new kind of creation. One wonders what might become of abstract sculpture and abstract painting. How would a Brancusi statue look if it were chipped and broken, or a Mondrian painting if were torn or turned dark with age? One wonders whether they belong to the same world as Chaldean sculptures, as Rembrandt and Rodin, or whether they form a world apart, closer to that of machines. I would go further and ask to what extent they may still be defined as sculpture, as painting. How much have they lost of the meaning in these words?”

– Ibid., p. 447

On Francis Bacon

It was not until the war years, when he was found unfit for service because he suffered from asthma, that he began to paint in earnest. [sic] He proved his aptitude with appalling authority.

– Ibid., p. 453 [bold added]

– Giacometti, Lotar III, 1965

unordered affairs and the obligations of the past

Alberto did not lack for people who told him that the time had come to put his affairs in order. Nor can he have doubted that he was in a position to appraise the deserts, whether just or unjust, of all those to whose future the past placed him under obligation. But he would not make a will.

– Ibid., p. 491


Nothing is more easeful to the dying than the touch of a beloved, bringing with it till the end the feel of life.

– Ibid., p. 514 [emphasis added]

– Alberto Giacometti, Lotar III, 1965 [my inversion]

“Till tomorrow.” Those were his last words.

– Ibid., p. 515

the most extraordinary of the Giacometti effects:

… he would have no “influence,” no followers, only a few imitators.

– Ibid., p. 518