The Collection of Drue Heinz
The plaster of the present sculpture is located at the Kunstmuseum, Bern.
Alberto Giacometti conceived Tête de Diego sur socle circa 1955, in a series of a half-dozen heads and busts of his brother that dramatically manifest the artist’s most radical development in his sculpture since the visionary, attenuated, and weightless figures he had created during the late 1940s. The centerpiece of this group is the Grande tête mince, 1954, in life-size and more than two feet in height (65 cm.), the largest head that Giacometti produced during that decade.
Like Grande tête mince, when viewed from the front and the side, the present Tête de Diego sur socle startles the viewer with an apparently inexplicable contradiction—frontally, the visage Giacometti has represented is thin (“mince”), yet still incorporating the essential features of eyes, nose, and mouth by which we may recognize the subject, who is clearly Diego. As if shaved down at the sides, this slender presence of the head appears to have been subjected to the same corrosive stresses of surrounding space, feeding on the very substance of the body, that shaped Giacometti’s standing figures into elongated, wraith-like apparitions from an alternate reality. The profiles, right and left, of Diego’s head, despite their plaque-like flatness, manifest more normal proportions. The head resulting from this unprecedented contrast of front and profile, combined into a single representation, has been likened to the shape of a spade.
The base (“socle”) that comprises the lower third of the height of the present Tête de Diego also displays several anomalies. Its primary purpose, of course, is to lift and isolate the head from the surface on which it rests; Giacometti also employed the base to suggest the proper height at which the sculpture should be viewed—ideally, eye-to-eye with the observer. Seen from the front, the positioning of the neck and head is asymmetrical; the axis of the ascending visage rises noticeably to the right of center. Giacometti cut into the upper face of the base, as if to indicate a transitional step between the implanted neck and the socle. The head appears to emerge from the rectangular, box-like plinth, as if it had raised up from a block of stone. The effect is analogous to the frame that Giacometti would typically indicate inside the edges of a canvas to establish the spatial context within which he would paint a figure, bust, or head.
By 1950 Giacometti felt that he had exhausted the possibilities inherent in the acutely expressive, stick-like figures that had recently brought him international fame. He now sought to reclaim a more concrete sense of the human presence in space as we perceive it. Just as he had done in 1935, when he gave up his surrealist and abstract manner, an art created from memory and imagination, Giacometti once again committed himself to working before a living model—chiefly his wife Annette for female figures, and his brother Diego for male heads. “Giacometti had indeed chosen the existence of individuals, the here and now as the chief object of his new and future study,” Yves Bonnefoy explained. “He instinctively realized that this object transcended all artistic signs and representations, since it was no less than life itself” (Alberto Giacometti, Paris, 2012, p. 369).
While many modern artists turned to a wife or lover for their chief inspiration, a woman as muse, Giacometti’s artistic relationship with his primary model in the heads and busts was masculine on both sides. To achieve the sense of presence that he desired, the sculptor continually built up and broke down the plaster model he held in his hands. “I shall never succeed in putting into a portrait all the power a head contains,” Giacometti lamented (quoted in R. Hohl, ed., Giacometti: A Biography in Pictures, Ostfildern-Ruit, 1998, p. 148). This heroic and seemingly futile, Sisyphean quest, this struggle with being and nothingness, required a staunch, resilient male subject. It was indeed fortunate that this man was Giacometti’s brother, someone who was as close as possible to being a virtual extension of the artist himself.
The various sculptures that Giacometti created of men during the late 1940s stand full-length and are engaged in some sort of active movement. After 1950, his male subjects instead took the shape of heads or busts, often without arms and always lacking a lower body; his full-figure subjects were henceforth exclusively female. By focusing on the head and an armless upper torso, and excluding the rest of the figure, the sculptor emphasized a conception of a universal man, in the roles of seeing and thinking. The most important sign of life, Giacometti believed, is awareness, a consciousness of the world, perceived through the faculty of one's gaze. “If the gaze, that is life, is the main thing,” he declared, “then the head becomes the main thing, without a doubt. The rest of the body is limited to functioning as antennae that make people’s life possible—the life that is housed in the skull” (quoted in ibid., p. 146).
To understand, conceive, and translate into sculpture the head as a totality, however, posed a dichotomy in one’s perception of it. “If I look at you face-to-face,” Giacometti explained to Andre Parinaud in 1962, “I forget your profile. If I look at your profile, I forget the face. Everything becomes discontinuous. It comes down to this: I am never able to grasp the whole…The human being is complex. And in this measure, I am unable to apprehend it. This mystery continually deepens…” (trans. L. Abouhamad, from Alberto Giacometti: Écrits, Paris, 1990, p. 271).
During the early 1950s Giacometti modeled busts of Diego in which the head, “d’après nature”, is accorded its full, conventionally volumetric aspect. “There followed a series of works in which attenuation was almost systematically explored, the busts with ‘slicing heads’ of 1954-55,” David Sylvester wrote, “a series that could be said to sum up his contribution to the art of sculpture… In the best of these works, in which Giacometti does not give himself anything like the volume of a head to play with, he somehow models the profiles of a head which is physically no more than a wedge, so that his head implies the entire volume of a head and the entire presence of a frontal view. I do not think he ever again made a sculpture reaching the level of those pieces, for he never again attained the perfect balance between likeness and structural coherence” (Looking at Giacometti, New York, 1994, pp. 115 and 116).
The Collection of Drue Heinz
Tête de Diego sur socle
twice 'Alber Alberto Giacometti' (on the right side of the base); numbered and stamped with foundry mark '0/6 M. PASTORI CIRE PERDUE' (on the back of the base)
Alberto Giacometti (1901-1966)
The Alberto Giacometti Database, no. 4071.
Pierre Matisse Gallery, New York.
America-Israel Cultural Foundation, Inc., New York (gift from the above); sale, Parke-Bernet Galleries, Inc., New York, 16 May 1962, lot 34.
Acquired at the above sale by the late owner.