Work on Paper of the Month at Bowdoin College Museum of Art

“Untitled,” ca. 1963, ballpoint pen and blue ink on newspaper, by Alberto Giacometti, Swiss, 1901–1966

On the title page of the weekend edition of the newspaper Arts, published May 27 and 28, 1963, Alberto Giacometti captured with a few lines a young woman standing at the bar in a fashionably short dress. Curiously, the celebrated artist superimposed the figure on graphic elements of the page, as if reinterpreting the newspaper’s layout as a space to inhabit by the figure. The cropped colors of the header in blocks of yellow and blue, a bold dotted vertical divider, and the negative space suggest a café, the storied habitat of Parisian artists and intellectuals. They might evoke colorful awnings or modern advertisement, the cacophony of modern life.

James Lord, Alberto Giacometti’s close friend and biographer, sent this drawing to the late New York Times art critic Hilton Kramer as a personal gift. Both appreciated this ephemeral sketch as an artistic expression of one of the great sculptors of the mid-century. Moreover, they both agreed that Giacometti’s achievements were not to be subsumed under the rubric of “existential sainthood,”(Hilton Kramer) as recent commentators  who were influenced by the work of Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, and Jean Genet had proposed. Instead, Kramer suggested in a review published in November 1963 that Giacometti should be understood as an heir to Cézanne who “holds our interest now by virtue of the extraordinary expressive strength he has been able to bring to that combination of visual innocence and intellectual sophistication that used to be commonplace in French art.”

Their friendship was founded in part on their common concern for a reinterpretation of Giacometti’s work that would resonate beyond existentialist circles, brilliantly resolved in James Lord’s biographies of 1965 and 1985. Giacometti’s light-hearted sketch, a promised gift from Esta Kramer, offered them encouragement along the way.

Joachim Homann, Curator, Bowdoin College Museum of Art

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