Controversy has erupted on both sides of the Atlantic over a deal of making Giacometti works anew. The Giacometti Foundation has hired the art-dealer Larry Gagosian to sell 119 sculptures (made from1966 to 1993, between the artist’s and his wife’s death) and prints believed to be worth $54 million. The posthumous reproduction of sculpture remains a touchy subject, but under French law an artist’s estate, holders of the droit moral, has the right to produce new casts up to a maximum of 12. Until recently, the artist’s last living brother Bruno Giacometti, who is approaching the age of 100, was opposed to the new casts. There is speculation that after his death new works could be made under the governance of a newly formed foundation based in Paris.
From Rodin to Picasso, the rampant abuse of artist’s moulds has flooded the market with fakes. Why 12 is the total numbered allowed of unique pieces is a question mired in mid-century artist’s estates legislation. If six casts of a single plaster model were produced in Giacometti’s lifetime, as was the habit of the artist, the foundation would have the right to effectively double the total edition to a full dozen. Although rigorous control would temper debates of authenticity, this deal has prompted disgust, including one dealer who calls the go-between ‘morally illegitimate.’
The Swiss-born Giacometti was a fastidious artist in every aspect of his work, yet when he died in 1966 a private foundation that was established in Zurich to serve his legacy struggled to consolidate the entire oeuvre. Out of decades of legal deadlock, a newly formed nine-member board complete with two French government bureaucrats emerged to officiate the Alberto and Annette Giacometti Foundation, the contents of which come from the collection of the artist’s widow who died in 1993. In 2003, this new foundation based in Paris, where the artist resided for most of his life, controls a vast trove of art, a major archive, and fragments of Giacometti’s famously dishevelled studio.
Approximately 200 plasters were divided between the foundation and the artist’s remaining Swiss family. Of these any that are deemed by the foundation to be finished, and which do not already exist in 12 copies, can be reproduced. Fanning the flames of the foundation’s disapproval is a competing group, the Association Alberto and Annette Giacometti, which objects to the commercial plans and is concurrently producing a rival catalogue raisonnÃ©. Headed by Mary Lisa Palmer, a former assistant to Annette, the association claims its right to produce the definitive catalogue but the foundation seized the entire archive. The list of abuses made by bureaucrats, lawyers, auctioneers and other greedy parties is unending.
The deal between Gagosian and the Giacometti Foundation is imminent because the select pieces are not considered inalienable by law, a distinction that allows certain less important objects (often those made after an artist’s life) to be sold. Disturbingly, the foundation stated that they were attracted to the L.A.-based dealer because of his coterie of young big-ticket artists. Mixing and matching Giacometti’s work with that of a hot newbie reeks of the stunt that Gagosian pulled off this summer on Britannia Street when he used a suite of Francis Bacon canvases to unabashedly boost the value of new works by Damien Hirst.
Giacometti is now out to stud, minting money for the foundation and its partner Larry Gagosian by offering ‘original’ objects to consumers–both public and private, contrary to the good faith assertion that many will go to museums–who are keen for they know in time a sculpture is just a sculpture. The debate of artistic authenticity has yet found another ethically questionable case study in using dead artists’ new art to buoy contemporary art. Let public institutions and their professional curators, free of ulterior motives, juxtapose Giacometti’s work with art past and present. The unconscionable decision by the foundation’s trustees to potentially allow dealers to sell works in context with new art will add to the long list of groups raping the estate for commercial ends. What’s worse? Twenty years from now not a soul, bar your passing connoisseur, will note the posthumous vintage.