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How Alberto Giacometti became a legend

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The legend in his lair

THE man strides forward, bent slightly at the waist as if resisting a stiff breeze. He is not so much gaunt as spectral, stretched out like chewing gum, as insubstantial as smoke. And yet, despite his frailty, he is determined, even heroic. “Walking Man I”, a bronze made by Alberto Giacometti in 1960, is a searing monument to an era of anxiety, and a symbol of endurance in the face of overwhelming odds.

During his own life Giacometti, who was born in Switzerland in 1901, sometimes seemed too outmoded and idiosyncratic to win acclaim. But his reputation has continued to grow while those of his contemporaries, who clung to modernist orthodoxy, have faded. Today his humanity and pathos appeal to audiences in a way that more formal sculptors cannot. A flurry of recent activity has solidified his place among a small group of artists, including Pablo Picasso and Frida Kahlo, whose work and persona have seeped into public consciousness.

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