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Gagosian in controversial $54m Giacometti deal

“Preposterous plan to create additional sculptures,” says rival PaceWildenstein

A furious row has broken out after the Alberto and Annette Giacometti Foundation announced that it had selected the dealer Larry Gagosian to sell a group of 119 Giacometti sculptures and prints, in a deal believed to be worth about E45m ($54m).

The announcement has infuriated other dealers, rekindled the long-running battle between the separate Giacometti Foundation and Association, and led to fears that existing sculptures could lose value if more pieces appear on the market.

The foundation initially approached PaceWildenstein to sell works but were turned down by director Arne Glimcher, according to the New York newsletter the Baerfaxt, “because he did not agree with casting posthumous work. Most of what they will cast is suspected to be unfinished work that the artist intentionally left that way.”

Mr Glimcher subsequently told The Art Newspaper: “As somebody who knew Giacometti and had the privilege of watching him paint some of his sculptures. He and Diego [his brother] approved all of the patinas. The patina and sculpture are inextricable from each other, and as such, posthumous casts, in my opinion, are morally illegitimate.”

But the foundation told The Art Newspaper: “First, we never considered being represented by Pace. Second, our foundation, along with the other holders of the rights to Alberto Giacometti, has set very strict rules about casting possible bronze editions from plasters. Third, Arne included two posthumous casts in his 2005 Giacometti show. So his discomfort seems to be recent.”

But Mr Glimcher maintains that the foundation had approached him: “As recently as July [2006] the Giacometti Foundation again had contact with PaceWildenstein offering a recent posthumous cast of the Bust of Lotar to which we reiterated our reluctance to deal in posthumous casts. [The foundation’s] plan to enhance Giacometti’s reputation by creating additional sculptures is preposterous. There are already six casts of each of the sculptures with different patinas resulting in enough Giacometti sculptures that already exist.”

According to the foundation, which has hundreds of sculptures and thousands of drawings and prints in its holdings, the sculptures to be sold are already cast, and are all posthumous. None of the works concerned are “inaliénable”, meaning that the foundation has the right to sell them [some of the works are not allowed to be sold under French legislation governing foundations]. Neither the foundation nor the Gagosian gallery would specify what pieces would be sold, nor the prices.

Other dealers who have sold Giacometti sculptures are worried that if series are extended by the foundation, then works they have sold to clients will be less valuable.

Meanwhile the Giacometti Association, established by Giacometti’s widow Annette [in 1988] and which was supposed to prepare the way for the fully-fledged foundation, which started four years ago, has also weighed into the fray.

Reacting quickly to the news of the Gagosian deal, the association said that it was “protesting vigorously [against the agreement] which in no way reflects the wishes of Annette Giacometti”.

“Our feeling is that this is not the foundation Annette wanted,” said its president Mary Lisa Palmer, who worked with her for 20 years. “Annette wanted the foundation to exhibit Giacometti works, not to ‘promote’ it commercially,” she says.

“We live on the money we have invested and by selling works,” says Véronique Wiesinger, director of the foundation. “The works will be sold selectively. We want to make Giacometti more present in public collections, and we need a commercial partner, who can promote his work.” But Ms Palmer retorts: “Giacometti doesn’t need to be made ‘known’, he is well known enough.” An established dealer told The Art Newspaper: “It is outrageous to suggest that the foundation is selling to make Giacometti’s works ‘more known’. It is selling works to pay for the foundation’s costs,” he said.

But Frank Giraud of the New York dealership Pissarro Giraud Segalot, supports the new deal: “The foundation will control the quality of the bronzes, which is reassuring for the market, which is currently strong. I think there are many more potential buyers for Giacometti works, and this will enable them to buy casts.”

Ms Wiesinger says: “We don’t want to boost Giacometti prices artificially, but we do want to reflect the rarity of his creation. Some of the editions are finished [meaning no more can be made as the legal limit of 12 has been reached] or are in public collections. In fact, it is part of the agreement with Larry [Gagosian] that we will give priority to museums. We want to follow the way Annette worked with the Louisiana museum in Denmark: between 1972 and 1992 she sold them very fine casts, and now the museum has one of the best groups in the world.”

Mr Gagosian was not available for comment, but John Good, a director of the Gagosian Gallery in New York, said: “We can’t control the market but we can encourage it by placing pieces correctly. We are not in a hurry, this is a long term project.”