Alberto Giacometti, Le Nez (The Nose)

The Institut Giacometti in Paris has brought together all versions of “Le Nez” (The Nose), one of Alberto Giacometti’s best-known sculptures, including three different models in plaster and two bronzes. This is quite an achievement, because in 2021 one version of “Le Nez” was bought for USD 78 million by Chinese billionaire Justin Sun, founder of the blockchain-based operating platform Tron and CEO of BitTorrent. One version, too fragile to move, is represented in the form of a holograph.

The exhibition also includes the drawings and notebooks when Giacometti first conceived of “The Nose” and works by four contemporary artists, Annette Messager, Rui Chafes, Hiroshi Sugimoto and Ange Leccia. I was familiar with Venetian carnival masks and New Guinean masks, some of which also feature a large nose, but I had never made the connection with Giacometti’s “The Nose”.

“The Nose” is a fascinating, visually striking sculpture, with its hollow eyes, its gaping toothless mouth, the metal frame, which looks like a cage, and of course the exceptionally long, protruded nose, which sticks out of the frame. It reminded me of the work of Francis Bacon, whose heads and figures are also contained within a frame. 

Between 1947 and 1964 Giacometti created several versions of “The Nose”, varying in size and material. 

Alberto Giacometti, Le Nez (The Nose)

But why the large nose? The answer lies in the question. Art that does not raise any questions is flat and uninteresting. “The Nose” sticks out to us inviting interpretation, yet withholding its meaning.

Reconstruction of Giacometti's studio at the Institut Giacometti

The Institut Giacometti is a small and intimate museum housed in a beautifully renovated art deco style private mansion just off the boulevard Raspail near the Fondation Cartier.  

Giacometti lived and worked for almost forty years in a tiny studio in Montparnasse, at 46 rue Hippolyte-Maindron, which had no heating and a shared bathroom. He continued to live and work there even after he had attained worldwide fame. The studio has been relocated to the ground floor of the Institut Giacometti, including the walls, sculptures, tools and personal belongings.

Last year I visited the Kunsthaus Zürich, which has one of the largest collections of works by Giacometti. I was delighted to visit this small but wonderful exhibition and to see Giacometti’s former studio.

Alberto Giacometti. The Nose is at the Institut Giacometti, Paris until 14 January 2024.