A new permanent collection installation greeted visitors to the Phillips last week right when they walked through the double glass doors into the galleries. What’s on view? A 1960 sculpture by Alberto Giacometti, a 1952 painting by Francis Bacon, a 2001 photograph by James Casebere, and a 1988 sculpture by Juan Hamilton. This group of works will remain on view throughout the winter.
Giacometti opens on February 7, 1963, comprising 37 sculptures. From this show, Monumental Head (1960) is purchased for the collection. In his introduction to the catalogue, Duncan Phillips writes of Alberto Giacometti:
Out of all this creative exploration there emerges one constant – one single ‘artistic personality’ – Berenson’s sine qua non. It is to be found in [Giacometti's] every period. It is the image of a human being, miniature or massive, the image of a lonely estranged presence beyond specific description.
It was 1995 when I was in my first stint as a Phillips Collection Museum Assistant as well as a full-time BFA student at the Corcoran College of Art and Design after 20 years as a newspaper and magazine journalist. I was sitting on the front steps of the Phillips house during a work break when I saw a tall, angular older man leaving the museum with his daughter.
As they approached, I stood and said to the man, “Hi, excuse me, but are you William Maxwell? We corresponded often when I was a magazine editor in Delaware.”
I identified myself, and he said, “Oh, yes” and spelled out my last name, smiling.
He said whenever he was in Washington he visited the Phillips because he loved the collection. His biographer Barbara Burkhardt noted in William Maxwell: A Literary Life, that one of his favorite artists featured in the collection was Pierre Bonnard because of Bonnard’s “intimism.”
He also told me he particularly liked seeing Alberto Giacometti’s sculpture Monumental Head (1960) because the head looked just like him (but without the really long neck).
It sure does.