PRINT December 1985


James Rosenquist and Giacometti: A Biography.

Giacometti: A Biography
By James Lord, New York: Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1985, 575 pp., 28 black and white illustrations.

GIACOMETTI IS A MUCH considered study of the artist by an author who is both earnestly reverential and well-informed. The stance taken is that of a knowing bystander, one who feels free to add his asides but who never formally enters the action. James Lord knew the artist, and in his earlier book A Giacometti Portrait, published by the Museum of Modern Art, New York, in 1965, he shared his experience of posing in the studio on the rue Hippolyte Maindron. Based on notes taken at the time, that small book takes the form of a running conversation between Alberto Giacometti and Lord and retains the flavor of the sessions. This sense of immediacy and generosity of inclusion is missing in the biography, however, which suggests that much (besides the cooperation of Annette Giacometti, the artist’s widow) has been withheld or left unexplored, and available witnesses underquestioned.

The book’s list of sources is awesome. Foremost is Diego Giacometti, the artist’s brother and studio collaborator, and a cast of intelligentsia including Jean-Paul Sartre and Jean Genet (who both wrote catalogue introductions for Giacometti), André Breton (who in 1933 published Giacometti’s dreamscape prose piece “Yesterday, Quicksand”), Samuel Beckett (for whom the artist created a lone tree as the set for Waiting for Godot), Pablo Picasso, Balthus, Francis Bacon, and hundreds of others acknowledged in the bibliography. Yet Giacometti’s intellectual outline is vague. There are too many dips into Sigmund Freud in lieu of esthetic analysis. There is too much conjecture about Amié Maeght’s and Pierre Matisse’s businesses, and too little insight into how Giacometti’s work affected and effected developments in 20th-century art. The artist remains simply a subject of documentary discussion.

Giacometti’s personality, like his art, was a complex interlocking of light and shadow. A tenacious artistic puritan, he was an intimate of secret nighttime Paris; he was capable of great charm and equally of cruel indifference. Lord’s studied portrait lacks dimension. A sense of Giacometti’s spirit, the intuitive and intellectual root of his art, is lacking, and without it, whatever the strengths, this book is incomplete.

James Rosenquist
By Judith Goldman, New York: Viking, 1985, 188 pp., 73 black and white illustrations, 113 color plates.

JAMES ROSENQUIST IS so obvious that he is easy to overlook. Somewhat off-putting commercial cut-ups seemingly confined to the surface world, his fragmented compositions refer to printed images rather than warm realities. Yet his painted images are, in fact, seductive. Rosenquist’s art goes deep into the heart of what it means to be an artist, a caring, clear-eyed witness of our society of market icons and designer labels, in which the only recognized universals may be Coca-Cola and Levis. His art tells truths that jar and that can sometimes hurt as well as please or provoke commentary. Judith Goldman sensitively lets Rosenquist speak his mind, skillfully placing this running monologue in the historical and esthetic context of who, what, and when, without seeming to direct, intrude, or presume. Rosenquist is allowed to hang himself on occasion, yet his humanity and intelligence are in abundance. The voice we hear is authentic, uniquely American, uniquely Rosenquist. There is not a shard of self-congratulation. Open to pain and false moves, the performer of brilliant sleight-of-hand, Rosenquist leaves himself—and through his art, us—no room to hide.

Amy Baker Sandback