In the fall of 1957 Giacometti was asked by the editors of the French magazine Arts to visit the great auto show which is held annually at Paris’s Grand Palais and to comment afterwards on the relation of the car to sculpture. Could the “beauty” of a car be compared, he was asked, to that of a statue? His essay in reply follows.
The other day I went over to the Salon de l’Automobile. I was at once caught up in the mixture of commercial rivalries, publicity-seeking display, money, class-consciousness, strife, luxury, and fashion. In all that surrounding frenzy, one is never quite sure what one is looking at. I was struck one minute by the head of a man peering in front of me; then by the peculiar walk of a woman. Spots of bright color danced before my eyes: red, green, yellow—ugly on the whole. Then I noticed the flowers strewn in front of the cars and a moment later found myself facing a huge, black, shiny monster, edged in silver. It made me think of a vast safe and raised visions of bank buildings, villas on the Cote d’Azur with old men sunk inside them, and the massive hoard of money behind all that.
One car reminded me of a drive through Paris in a car very much like it several years back. It had been a special drive in the company of a special person and all the sights and sounds attached to the event now suddenly returned to mind. Another car recalled a certain walk in the country, also quite awhile ago. Then, all at once, in that enormous hall I found myself gazing at the ceiling and thinking of the Gare de l’Est, of the Tour Eiffel, of the year 1900, and of Emile Zola.
It is always difficult to see a car as a whole. The eye is usually attracted to one aspect or another, caught now by a headlight—that great mechanical eye with the look of an optical instrument, a giant microscope. A car nearby looked like dribbling marmalade.
I stopped before a running motor, fascinated as I always am by any machine in motion—as I was, before the war, by a certain calculating machine in a shop window on the Blvd. Malesherbes. I could never pass by there, on my way back from the Galleries on the rue La Boétie, without staring at it for long minutes at a time. It was a marvelous machine, much more extraordinary than the motor at the auto show.
Not for a second in all that long afternoon at the exhibit did I have any thought of sculpture. Yes..., I did once, at sight of a figure on the hood of an engine which was a small imitation of the Victory of Samothrace. As I came out—it was already half past eight in the evening and quite dark—I couldn’t find a taxi to take me home. By some strange coincidence there was nothing in the street but an old- fashioned carriage. I hailed the driver and set off. Stepping down a little while later at my door, I turned back to take a careful look at the carriage, the horse, and the driver, admiring the harmony between the three elements, the clarity and precision of the entire structure, each part contributing visibly to the flowing symmetry of the whole. I felt like drawing it there and then.