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Surrealist Objects and Assemblage

Discover how everyday objects, arranged unexpectedly, became triggers for unlocking the subconscious mind.

The Palace at 4 a.m.

Alberto Giacometti
(Swiss, 1901–1966)

1932. Wood, glass, wire, and string, 25 x 28 1/4 x 15 3/4" (63.5 x 71.8 x 40 cm)

The Palace at 4 a.m. is a spindly wood scaffolding, sheet of glass, and delicate skeletal structure. Considered by some to be one of Giacometti’s most theatrical works, the scaffold-like structure is reminiscent of a bare-bones stage set. In 1933, he wrote that the scenes in this and other sculptures came to him “entirely completed” in visions, and that he tried to reproduce them “in space without changing anything.”

According to Giacometti, The Palace at 4 a.m. was inspired by an all-engrossing six-month love affair with a woman identified only as Denise. “We constructed a fantastical palace in the night,” he wrote, “…a very fragile palace of matches; at the least false movement a whole section of the diminutive construction would collapse; we would always began it all over again.”1

The same year he made this work, the artist wrote the prose poem “Charbon d’herbe”:

I return to the constructions that amuse me 
and which are alive in their surreality; a beautiful palace…
the shafts of the columns, the ceiling in the air which laughs…
I try gropingly to catch in the void
 the invisible white thread of the marvelous
 which vibrates, and from which facts and dreams scape…
It imparts life to living
 and the shining games of the needles and the turning dice 
develop and succeed each other alternately
 and the drop of blood on the milky skin,
 but a piercing scream rises suddenly that causes the air to shiver and the white ground to tremble
…I seek out the women of the light gait
…the same who existed within the little boy
…who looked within and without so many marvels.
 Oh! Palace palace!

Though the relationship between his poem and sculpture is unclear, both reference palaces, dreams, and desire.

Alberto Giacometti, “Je ne puis parler qu’indirectement de mes sculptures….” Minotaure, nos. 3–4 (December 1933), p. 46

A three-dimensional work of art made by a variety of means, including carving wood, chiseling stone, casting or welding metal, molding clay or wax, or assembling materials.

A setting for or a part of a story or narrative.

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The Palace at 4 a.m.

Alberto Giacometti (Swiss, 1901–1966)