Carnegie owns version of Giacometti sculpture sold for $104.3 million
Lynn Zelevansky, the Henry J. Heinz Director of the Carnegie Museum of Art, speaks of the significance of Alberto Giacometti's bronze sculpture, "Walking Man I," done in 1960. The museum owns edition 1 of 6.
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The Alberto Giacometti sculpture that broke global auction records for a work of art Wednesday is a familiar figure to Carnegie Museum of Art visitors. The Oakland museum has one, too.
The bronze "Walking Man I" sold to an anonymous bidder at Sotheby's in London for $104.3 million, including buyer's premium. It was one of a numbered edition of six, plus four artist proofs, by the Swiss sculptor who died in 1966.
The Carnegie has bragging rights to the first cast of the edition, which was purchased from the 1961 Carnegie International for an amount in the low five figures, said museum chief curator Louise Lippincott. It was paid for out of the Patrons Art Fund, which was supported by small contributions from the public as well as major gifts.
The sale surpassed estimates of $19.2 million to $28.8 million for the sculpture and tripled the previous record for a Giacometti, according to The New York Times.
The sculpture was sold by German banking firm Commerzbank AZ, which acquired "Walking Man I" as part of a takeover of Dresdner Bank, including its corporate art collection. Dresdner had owned the work since 1980.
Sam Berkovitz, owner of Concept Art Gallery in Regent Square and a fine arts auctioneer, said that one possible reason the sculpture drew such a high bid is that the other casts may be owned by institutions and very unlikely to ever be sold. "That takes them kind of off the market in perpetuity."
What makes these sculptures so special, Mr. Berkovitz said, is that Giacometti did their patination and finishing, techniques that alter the surface color and appearance of a work.
Mr. Berkovitz estimated the worth of the Carnegie sculpture to be the same as the auctioned sculpture. "It's the same piece. And one of the nicest things they have at the museum."
Although the museum declined to speculate on the impact of the high auction price on the museum's insurance costs, Thomas Sokolowski, director of the Andy Warhol Museum, which is part of the Carnegie Museums, said the record price will naturally increase the cost of insuring Carnegie Museum of Art's version of the sculpture.
"It makes me very mad because it's just stupidity," Mr. Sokolowski said, adding that stratospheric auction prices reflect changing tastes in the art world, not the true value of an artist's work. "It's all marketing," he said.
Ms. Lippincott said the sculpture, which she called "an icon," has "been a favorite in Pittsburgh since 1961." Except for periods when it has been on loan to other institutions, or when the galleries have been cleared for Carnegie Internationals, the sculpture has been displayed since its purchase.
"Giacometti has always been one of the major post-war sculptors, and his reputation has been solid from the beginning," Ms. Lippincott said. "He has always been strong and will continue to be strong. He is a great artist, always has been and always will be. His treatment of the human figure strikes a chord with everyone who looks at his work."
"Our 'Walking Man' is monumental in the sense that he's tall [six feet] and bronze, connecting him with a long tradition of the human figure. He's also emaciated, extra thin, and his forward leaning posture [makes him] less domineering. There is a sense of motion, of moving forward, and yet this is not Napoleon leading the charge over the Alps. But he's not moving tentatively.
"From some angles it looks like a ravaged body, but it's a ravaged body that continues to move forward."
Critics have suggested that the stark figures arose from Giacometti's experience of the devastations of war. But the artist, who was at one time associated with the surrealists and was a close friend of existentialist philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre, denied that connection.
In her book "An American Childhood," noted author and Pittsburgh native Annie Dillard describes her encounters with "Walking Man I":
"I saw a stilled figure in a swirl of invisible motion. I saw a touchy man moving through a still void. Here was the thinker in the world -- but there was no world, only the abyss through which he walked. Man Walking was pure consciousness made poignant: a soul without a culture, absolutely alone, without even a time, without people, speech, books, tools, work, or even clothes. ... He was in spirit and in form a dissected nerve."
"Walking Man I" is exhibited in the Carnegie's gallery 13, near another Giacometti sculpture, "Four Figures on a Pedestal," a smaller and more abstracted bronze from 1950. It was a gift of Mr. and Mrs. Henry J. Heinz II in 1955.
"They're both wonderful pieces," Ms. Lippincott said. "The 'Walking Man' is one of his great masterpieces. The other one is a very fine early example, and one that we're thrilled to have, that is more in his [mode influenced by early Egyptian sculpture]."
First Published February 5, 2010 12:00 am