The Alberto Giacometti heritage, estimated between US $ 150 million and 180 million, is presently at the centre of a ferocious battle regarding its future destination. Since the death in 1993 of Annette Giacometti, the widow of the famous artist, the heritage consisting of hundreds of sculptures, paintings, watercolours, drawings and documents, has remained in want of a solution.
Annette Giacometti was in favour of the setting up of a foundation according to her will but such project has been left pending because of governmental procrastinations amidst a conflict of interest between the heirs of the sculptor and U.S born Mary Lisa Palmer who was Giacometti's secretary for over 20 years. Annette Giacometti had created in 1989 a Giacometti association managed by Mrs Palmer with the aim of transforming it into a foundation. Roland Dumas, a lawyer and a former French minister under François Mitterrand and also a member of the board of this association, expressed his concern about the future of the project which he claimed was vital for France.
The Ministry for culture has stated that the project was not coherent enough to be approved presently and asked for new information about the statutes of the foundation which in its view remained unclear.
The inventory of the heritage was conducted recently by Paris auctioneer Jacques Tajan who showed hostility to the project. His opinion is that such a remarkable collection should be hosted in a museum and not be transferred to a foundation which would be free to act as it would please regarding it. Annette's brothers, Michel and Claude Arm from Switzerland, are the sole Giacometti heirs, are in line to inherit the collection. However, they would have to pay death duties amounting to 45% and be forced to sell part of the collection at auction or be allowed, according to a special French decree called dation, give the State a share of the collection equivalent to these duties and this would be an ideal solution for French museums which have not so many Giacometti works to exhibit. However, according to the daily Le Figaro, Annette Giacometti had expressed the wish that the collection inherited after the death of her husband in 1966 would serve to set up a foundation. She made such request to the ministry of culture some 10 years ago but to no avail.
In 1994, Jacques Tajan conducted the sale of 14 bronze sculptures and four paintings by Giacometti which realised some US $ 7 million, a sum which was used to meet the costs of the Giacometti succession and its management.
Nevertheless, the reluctance of the ministry of Culture to allow the setting up of such foundation is certainly based on the fact that other groupings of that kind met disaster in recent years. Ministry officials have had probably in mind the scandals of the Vasarely and Jan Arp foundations, the former being mismanaged and the latter being literally ransacked with dozens of Arp's plasters being sent to Germany without official authorisation.
In addition, there has been a feud within the association between Bruno Giacometti, the brother of the artist, the nephews of Alberto's sister, Michel and Claude Arm on one side and Mary Lisa Palmer on the other about the functioning of the future foundation.
The ministry expressed doubts about the viability of such project and the absence of guarantees regarding the preservation of the collection. Annette Giacometti had however given US $ 3,5 million to the association to enable its functioning and bought a building for US $ 2,5 million to house the collection and also agreed to sell certain pieces to ensure its future.
Members of the Giacometti family opposed to Mary Lisa Palmer stated that there was no legal link between the association and the future foundation. Mary Lisa Palmer retorted that she had been invested by Annette Giacometti with the moral rights concerning the works of Giacometti. She in fact tried to have such position confirmed but lost her claim in court in 1995 and before a court of appeal in september 1997. She now envisages to go before the French supreme court of appeal to have this decision quashed.
There will thus be further delays to a solution of such problem. Meanwhile, Giacometti's works have been stored in a safe place and might remain inaccessible to the public for quite a long time.