On Wednesday, the Giacometti sculpture L’Homme qui marche 1 (Walking Man 1) sold for £58 million. Including commission to Sotheby’s, the anonymous buyer would have had to pay £65 million. The statue isn’t unique. Actually it’s one of six casts (called “editions”) which the artist made from his original mould.
The object that sold last week isn’t a piece of art. Well, it is. It’s a great piece of art by a man with an exceptional talent. It speaks to us. But consider: if the mould still existed and someone else made a cast, one that was absolutely indistinguishable from the six others – or if someone made a perfect copy by another means, such as taking a cast of one of the six – what would that be worth?
Almost nothing? Not a real Giacometti? But say there’s no way to distinguish the copy from one of the “originals”. Sotheby’s could sell the copy and nobody would ever know. So where does the value of the statue come from?
The answer is that it is the actual one that Giacometti himself made. Somehow, despite being identical, the six originals have high value and out hypothetical copy has not. That’s what I meant by saying that the object sold isn’t art. It’s celebrity memorabilia. Its only value is that it has some kind of association with a famous person. Here, for example, imagine I have two identical silver lamé catsuits, except one was the actual suit that Elvis Presley wore for his last Vegas performance. Worth tens of thousands, probably, while the other one is just a silly bit of seventies tat.
So what the buyer purchased on Wenesday was not art. It was Giacometti memorabilia. The art was in the conception and production of the statues, which was in 1961. And it’s something that we all own, because we can go and look at the other five copies in their museums, or just look at the photos.