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"Trendy" Giacometti sculpture sale breaks record

Not only Giacometti's most expensive but also his tallest sculpture Christie's

Sculptor Alberto Giacometti has retained his title as the most expensive Swiss artist after one of his pieces fetched a record price at a New York auction.

This content was published on May 7, 2008 - 21:54

Grande femme debout II (Tall woman standing II) sold for $27.5 million (SFr29 million) at the Impressionist and Modern Art sale at Christie's on Tuesday, well above its $18 million estimate.

Previously another of his works, L'homme qui chavire, became the most costly Swiss work of art when it went for $18.5 million in 2007.

A spokesman for the auction house said Swiss artists were becoming "increasingly desirable among collectors" and Giacometti in particular had become fashionable.

Internationally, he is the most important Swiss artist, according to Nadia Schneider, curator for 20th and 21st century collections at the Museum of Art and History in Geneva, and creator of its upcoming retrospective on the Graubünden-born sculptor.

"Sculpture was his strong point. You cannot confuse him with other artists. He really created a style that is unique and had originality," Schneider told swissinfo.

However, she says overly high prices for art are not justified. "It's private collectors who pay these prices. Institutions cannot afford to pay them.

"It's very counter-productive for the museums. For example, if I had to ask a collector to lend us this work, I dare not even imagine how much he would ask for as insurance."

Schneider added that the price paid by a collector for a work did not guarantee the artist a place in history.

"Sometimes the price is not in relation to the quality of an artist. But for Giacometti, this is not the case. He is already a classic in the history of art," she said.

Rare piece

Giacometti studied in Geneva and Paris, where he later settled and developed an interest in the human figure. He gained fame in the mid-1950s and since his death in 1966 retrospectives of his work have been held worldwide.

Five of the artist's sculptures went under the hammer at Tuesday's sale, with other final bids ranging from $657,000 to $14.6 million.

At 274cm high, Grande femme debout II was the largest work he ever created, one of a group of four figurative sculptures. At one time the group was intended to adorn a new building being built in Manhattan, but the project encountered difficulties.

A cast of one of the sculptures has been on display at the Foundation Beyeler in the Swiss city of Basel since 1997.

Christie's said the "sheer scale" of Grande femme debout II made it a very rare piece on the market, and could explain why it fetched a record price.

Painter Ferdinand Hodler ranks as the second expensive Swiss artist, his latest work selling for SFr10.9million last year.

"Top range works of art are in demand, whether they are Swiss or not. Apparently Giacometti is very trendy," said a Christie's Geneva spokeswoman.

"He is an artist who is very much at the top of the list now. He is really international and has been for some time now. He no longer goes in our Swiss art sales. Maybe that will be the case for Hodler in five years time."

swissinfo, Jessica Dacey

Alberto Giacometti

Giacometti was born at Borgonovo, southern Switzerland in 1901.

Encouraged by his family, he began to draw and sculpt at a very young age. After attending college, he decided to study art, first in Geneva, then in Paris.

He came into contact with the major artists and intellectuals of the period, experimenting with Cubism, Surrealism and by the mid-1930s had rekindled an interest in drawing the human figure.

Giacometti continued to hone his craft from 1937-47, with some of his sculptures reducing in size to the point that he could carry them in matchboxes.

The figures from this period, such as Walking Man, are probably Giacometti's best-known works. They later regained a sense of volume.

Giacometti was also producing paintings, drawings and writings.

He became increasingly well-known in the mid-1950s, with his art going on show in Europe and the US, but still he continued to live and work in Paris.

In the early 1960s, his health began to suffer from his irregular lifestyle and overwork. He died in January 1966 and was buried at the village of his birth.
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