Alberto Giacometti The Palace at 4 a.m. 1932

The Museum of Modern Art, Floor 5, Collection Galleries

In 1933, Giacometti published a statement describing his artistic process, referring specifically to works like The Palace at 4 A.M. "For many years I have executed only sculptures that have presented themselves to my mind entirely completed. I have limited myself to reproducing them in space without changing anything, without asking myself what they could mean.... The attempts to which I have sometimes given way, of conscious realization of a picture or even a sculpture, have always failed." This work with its spindly wood scaffolding, sheet of glass, and delicate skeletons is a vertical, immaterial drawing in space.

Gallery label from 2006.

According to Giacometti, The Palace at 4 a.m. relates to "a period of six months passed in the presence of a woman who, concentrating all life in herself, transported my every moment into a state of enchantment. We constructed a fantastical palace in the night—a very fragile palace of matches. At the least false movement a whole section would collapse. We always began it again." The woman in question is often identified as one of Giacometti's lovers, known only by her first name, Denise. In the summer of 1933 Giacometti told André Breton, the leader of the Surrealist movement, that he was incapable of making anything that did not have something to do with her.

Gallery label from The Erotic Object: Surrealist Sculpture from the Collection, June 24, 2009–January 4, 2010.

An empty architecture of wood scaffolding, The Palace at 4 a.m. undoes conventional ideas of sculptural mass. Even early on, Giacometti once wrote, he had struggled to describe a "sharpness" that he saw in reality, "a kind of skeleton in space"; human bodies, he added, "were never for me a compact mass but like a transparent construction." Here he extends that vision to render a building as a haunting stage set. Haunting and haunted, for the palace is lived in: isolate forms and figures inhabit its spaces. The enigma of their connection charges the air that is the sculpture's principal medium. Giacometti was a Surrealist when he made the Palace, and it has the requisite eerie mood. It was his practice, he said, to execute "sculptures that presented themselves to my mind entirely accomplished. I limited myself to reproducing them . . . without asking myself what they could mean." Yet Giacometti did relate The Palace at 4 a.m. to a period he had spent with a woman who enchanted him, and with whom he had built a "fantastic palace at night, . . . a very fragile palace of matchsticks." He did not know why he had included the spinal column or the skeletal bird, though he associated both with her. As for "the red object in front of the board; I identify it with myself."

Publication excerpt from The Museum of Modern Art, MoMA Highlights, New York: The Museum of Modern Art, revised 2004, originally published 1999, p. 153.
Medium
Wood, glass, wire, and string
Dimensions
25 x 28 1/4 x 15 3/4" (63.5 x 71.8 x 40 cm)
Credit
Purchase
Object number
90.1936
Copyright
© 2018 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris
Department
Painting and Sculpture

This work is included in the Provenance Research Project, which investigates the ownership history of works in MoMA's collection.

The artist
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Purchased from the artist, 1936.

Provenance research is a work in progress, and is frequently updated with new information. If you have any questions or information to provide about the listed works, please email provenance@moma.org or write to:

Provenance Research Project
The Museum of Modern Art
11 West 53 Street
New York, NY 10019

If you would like to reproduce an image of a work of art in MoMA’s collection, or an image of a MoMA publication or archival material (including installation views, checklists, and press releases), please contact Art Resource (publication in North America) or Scala Archives (publication in all other geographic locations).

All requests to license audio or video footage produced by MoMA should be addressed to Scala Archives at firenze@scalarchives.com. Motion picture film stills or motion picture footage from films in MoMA's Film Collection cannot be licensed by MoMA/Scala. For licensing motion picture film footage it is advised to apply directly to the copyright holders. For access to motion picture film stills please contact the Film Study Center. More information is also available about the film collection and the Circulating Film and Video Library.

If you would like to reproduce text from a MoMA publication or moma.org, please email text_permissions@moma.org. If you would like to publish text from MoMA’s archival materials, please fill out this permission form and send to archives@moma.org.

This record is a work in progress. If you have additional information or spotted an error, please send feedback to digital@moma.org.