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Giacometti: A Biography

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The work of one of the towering creative spirits of the century, Alberto Giacometti's visionary sculptures and paintings from a testament to the artist's intriguing life story. From modest beginnings in a Swiss village, Giacometti went on to flourish in the picturesque milieu of prewar Paris and then to achieve international acclaim in the fifties and sixties. Picasso, Bal The work of one of the towering creative spirits of the century, Alberto Giacometti's visionary sculptures and paintings from a testament to the artist's intriguing life story. From modest beginnings in a Swiss village, Giacometti went on to flourish in the picturesque milieu of prewar Paris and then to achieve international acclaim in the fifties and sixties. Picasso, Balthus, Samuel Beckett, Stravinsky and Sartre have parts in his story, along with flamboyant art dealers, whores, shady drifters, unscrupulous collectors, poets and thieves. Women were a complex yet important element of his life--particularly his wife, Annette, and his last mistress and model, Caroline--as was the intimate relationship he shared with his brother Diego, who was both Alberto's confidant and collaborator. James Lord was personally acquainted with Giacometti and his entourage, and combines firsthand experience with a unique knowledge gathered during many years of observation and research. In this exceptional biography Lord unfolds the personal history of a man who managed to achieve a heroic destiny by remaining utterly true to himself and to his calling. Giacometti: A Biography was nominated for the National Book Critics Circle Award. James Lord has subsequently published three volumes of memoirs. In recognition of his contribution to French culture he has been made an officer of the Legion of Honour.


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The work of one of the towering creative spirits of the century, Alberto Giacometti's visionary sculptures and paintings from a testament to the artist's intriguing life story. From modest beginnings in a Swiss village, Giacometti went on to flourish in the picturesque milieu of prewar Paris and then to achieve international acclaim in the fifties and sixties. Picasso, Bal The work of one of the towering creative spirits of the century, Alberto Giacometti's visionary sculptures and paintings from a testament to the artist's intriguing life story. From modest beginnings in a Swiss village, Giacometti went on to flourish in the picturesque milieu of prewar Paris and then to achieve international acclaim in the fifties and sixties. Picasso, Balthus, Samuel Beckett, Stravinsky and Sartre have parts in his story, along with flamboyant art dealers, whores, shady drifters, unscrupulous collectors, poets and thieves. Women were a complex yet important element of his life--particularly his wife, Annette, and his last mistress and model, Caroline--as was the intimate relationship he shared with his brother Diego, who was both Alberto's confidant and collaborator. James Lord was personally acquainted with Giacometti and his entourage, and combines firsthand experience with a unique knowledge gathered during many years of observation and research. In this exceptional biography Lord unfolds the personal history of a man who managed to achieve a heroic destiny by remaining utterly true to himself and to his calling. Giacometti: A Biography was nominated for the National Book Critics Circle Award. James Lord has subsequently published three volumes of memoirs. In recognition of his contribution to French culture he has been made an officer of the Legion of Honour.

30 review for Giacometti: A Biography

  1. 5 out of 5

    Jason Fritz

    I consider three factors when appraising a book: the story, how it is told, and how it is written. Deficiencies in one factor can be nullified by excellence in the other factors. Giacometti: A Biography is an excellent story that is told marginally well and written poorly. I first discovered his work at an exhibit of his works at the MoMA in 2001 where I was so impressed by his slender figures of rough bronze, particularly Walking Man and City Square. The National Gallery has a few important wor I consider three factors when appraising a book: the story, how it is told, and how it is written. Deficiencies in one factor can be nullified by excellence in the other factors. Giacometti: A Biography is an excellent story that is told marginally well and written poorly. I first discovered his work at an exhibit of his works at the MoMA in 2001 where I was so impressed by his slender figures of rough bronze, particularly Walking Man and City Square. The National Gallery has a few important works through which I discovered for myself his Surrealist period, specifically No More Play (no longer on display) and Hands Holding the Void. Fascinated by these works I wanted to read about the man who created them. Curiously, there is a dearth of work dedicated to Giacometti. Lord's biography seemed the most prevalent and I happened upon it in a second-hand bookstore recently. Lord, billed as a writer on the jacket, knew Giacometti and sat for at least one portrait. Lord writes as a disinterested scholar in spite of this, examining Giacometti by his positive and negative characteristics while surely championing Giacometti's unrivaled excellence. Lord is at his best when writing about the works of art rather than Giacometti the man; he is a better critic than biographer. Unfortunately, this book contains too little critique for my taste and Lord's talents. The writing is often painful with strained syntax (verbs are occasionally optional) and an all too liberal smattering of exclamation marks. More than that, Lord engages entirely too often in pop-psych analysis of the subject. In some cases these tortured passages feel interminable and offer little enlightenment into Giacometti or his art. Principally because it reads like psychological analysis proffered by an undergraduate in the midst of failing Psych 101. The writer and editor would have done well to pare these distractions to mere sentences. However, I learned a great deal about Giacometti and his art. That being my goal in reading this book, I was well served. Occasionally brilliant, more often tedious, and otherwise fine throughout, this book is still enormously informative. And for this reason I liked this book.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Natalie Lovejoy

    I just could not get in to James Lords style of writing ... It simply was boring!

  3. 4 out of 5

    Nikmaack

    This was a difficult book to read and took me a long time to dig through. The author, James Lord, loves Giacometti almost as much as he loves the sound of his own voice. This gets a little tiring. There are turns of phrase so convoluted and stilted that it can be difficult to figure out what the author is trying to say. I suspect Lord thinks he's being poetic. Quite the opposite, he's being vague and pretentious. This tone creeps in particularly when the author is trying to praise Giacometti's a This was a difficult book to read and took me a long time to dig through. The author, James Lord, loves Giacometti almost as much as he loves the sound of his own voice. This gets a little tiring. There are turns of phrase so convoluted and stilted that it can be difficult to figure out what the author is trying to say. I suspect Lord thinks he's being poetic. Quite the opposite, he's being vague and pretentious. This tone creeps in particularly when the author is trying to praise Giacometti's art. Then there's one of the classic problems of autobiography -- Lord loves Giacometti so much, he forgives him all his bad behaviour. Giacometti marries a woman mostly because she threatens to kill herself. Much later, in his 60s, Giacometti starts a relationship with a 21 year old prostitute. As he gets rich and famous, he refuses to give money to his wife, but showers his whore (and model) with everything she could desire, and then some. Why? It's not really clear. Giacometti lives a simple, squalid life and seems to expect his wife to do the same. While I don't expect Lord to moralize on this behaviour, he seems to take this all in stride. Of course Giacometti behaved this way. He was, after all, an artistic genius. Thing is, you can be an artistic genius without being a complete bastard about it. And what does mistreating your wife have to do with making art? Is his vision so singular that he has to crap on everyone around him? It's one thing to hear that Giacometti screamed in his wife's face, "It's for my art! It's for my art!" It's another to have Lord standing behind him, nodding his head in agreement. It's creepy and cult-like. Despite all the flaws I've listed above, Lord does provide a lot of fascinating stories about Giacometti's life. I genuinely feel like I know a lot more. Mind you, I had to read 520 pages to get that information, and it could easily have been a lot shorter. There's another odd aspect to the book that bothers me. On the back cover is a picture of James Lord, with Giacometti. They are standing in the Museum of Modern Art in New York, in front of a portrait Giacometti painted of Lord. At no point in his book does Lord mention meeting Giacometti. He says nothing about posing for him. That seems beyond weird. Why leave out those details, those first hand experiences? Perhaps Lord was trying to maintain some objective distance from his subject. He fails in doing so completely. And maybe that's what makes the tone of the book so weird: James Lord is writing about an artist he has met, posed for, knows intimately. He forgives the artist all his sins. Now, he sits down to write a book, and pretends to be objectively writing from a distance. The fawning love oozes out on every page, even as Lord attempts to conceal it. This book is only for Giacometti fans with strong stomachs for convoluted prose.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Rachel

    Stunning portrait of the artist. Paean to the "unfinished" and the difficulty of ever completing a piece of art to satisfaction. Especially moving to reconsider as I struggle with letting go of the page proofs for my forthcoming memoir Love Junkie -- my last chance to alter the text. Profound and stirring biography that spans the inspired, perverse, focused and restless life of one of the great artists of all time imo. Stunning portrait of the artist. Paean to the "unfinished" and the difficulty of ever completing a piece of art to satisfaction. Especially moving to reconsider as I struggle with letting go of the page proofs for my forthcoming memoir Love Junkie -- my last chance to alter the text. Profound and stirring biography that spans the inspired, perverse, focused and restless life of one of the great artists of all time imo.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Tara

    A full-length, elegantly written, and entertaining bio that serves as sort of a companion volume to James Lord's much shorter and classic A Giacometti Portrait, about Lord's sitting for his portrait by Giacometti. A full-length, elegantly written, and entertaining bio that serves as sort of a companion volume to James Lord's much shorter and classic A Giacometti Portrait, about Lord's sitting for his portrait by Giacometti.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Robert Gebhardt

    "Giacometti is not working for his contemporaries, nor for the future generations: he is creating statues to at last delight the dead". - Jean Genet. The Studio of Alberto Giacometti A fascinating look at an odd but very talented man, as well as into the life of an artist in Paris during the 1930's, 40's, 50's and 60s. Giacometti these days would have been diagnosed with severe OCD and likely put on some sort of medication, which probably would have done wonders in terms of rendering his life mor "Giacometti is not working for his contemporaries, nor for the future generations: he is creating statues to at last delight the dead". - Jean Genet. The Studio of Alberto Giacometti A fascinating look at an odd but very talented man, as well as into the life of an artist in Paris during the 1930's, 40's, 50's and 60s. Giacometti these days would have been diagnosed with severe OCD and likely put on some sort of medication, which probably would have done wonders in terms of rendering his life more "normal", but would have deprived us of his art. Actually, he probably would have refused the medication regardless. The author seems very knowledgable (almost suspiciously so) of the comings, goings, inner thoughts and private actions not only of Alberto, but those close to him. There are some odd lacunas, such as stating that Caroline's real last name "does not matter", but regardless, I doubt anyone else could have give us as much information about this man and his family. Oddly missing was any reference to the author himself, despite having had a portrait made of himself (and a photo of him and the artist on the back cover). I can't help but wonder how he fits into Alberto's story. Also missing was further mention of Hans Bechtler, aside from being a Swiss who decided not to buy Giacometti's work. I live in Charlotte, where the Bechtler museum is chock full of Giacometti works, so I assume he changed his mind at some point and brought the works to North Carolina for some reason. In fact, I would have appreciated quite a bit more follow-up information. What happened to Annette? To Caroline? To the brother(s)? Did they have issues due to his dying intestate?

  7. 4 out of 5

    Chris

    This book is good enough. It tells his life story, and I learned a good bit on that front. But, it really leans on some male fantasies of “being an artist” and how the egocentric dickish attitude of a genius is okay. I don’t know, it made me like Giacometti less and think James Lord’s perspective is a little clouded by cliche ideas of the capital A artist.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Tobias

    Terrific account of one artist's life, flaws and all. Occasionally it's slow going (though being sick as I read it probably didn't help), but the cumulative effect is ultimately very moving. Terrific account of one artist's life, flaws and all. Occasionally it's slow going (though being sick as I read it probably didn't help), but the cumulative effect is ultimately very moving.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Lucas Kasper

    I've read and reread this many times. I love this book. I've read and reread this many times. I love this book.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Suzanne Ally

  11. 5 out of 5

    Reem

  12. 5 out of 5

    Denise Kovnat

  13. 5 out of 5

    Edson Françozo

  14. 4 out of 5

    Maude Lefaivre

  15. 5 out of 5

    Will

  16. 5 out of 5

    Kay

  17. 5 out of 5

    Ryan

  18. 4 out of 5

    Douglas Campbell

  19. 5 out of 5

    Reggie

  20. 4 out of 5

    Mason

  21. 5 out of 5

    Anna Fontanarosa

  22. 5 out of 5

    Lauren

  23. 5 out of 5

    Stephen Godin

  24. 4 out of 5

    Mary Ahern

  25. 5 out of 5

    Suzanne LaPierre

  26. 5 out of 5

    Penny Goring

  27. 5 out of 5

    Robert

  28. 5 out of 5

    Brytanni Burtner

  29. 5 out of 5

    Blick

  30. 5 out of 5

    Becky

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