Alberto Giacometti, Baseball Commissioner


We were reminded this past weekend—once again—that baseball season starts in less than a month, with pitchers and catchers reporting to their respective teams the third week of February. This in turn reminded us of a piece written by a friend of the gallery, journalist Gary Hill, which humorously conflates Alberto Giacometti with the late Bart Giamatti—at that time the newly named commissioner of baseball—and points out several reasons why Giacometti was the ideal person for the job. Gary has graciously allowed us to excerpt it here. So for art lovers, baseball fans, and all those who never thought the twain would meet, we present “Commissioner”:

I was riding the Flushing line toward Shea; an eternal return of sorts. It was winter and I was not actually going to the big blue stadium, but my thoughts turned—in the way that for some of us they always do—to baseball: specifically, the official designation of Alberto Giacometti as Commissioner.

As my train screeched and groaned out of Grand Central, I reflected that just a few years ago a Commissioner Giacometti would have seemed as unlikely as a World Series home run by Tom Lawless, himself a virtual eponym. But it is axiomatic that in this “crazy” game anything can—and does—happen.

Some of us had long dreamed of such a Commissioner, we who drink deeply of this majestic game even while basking attentively among, but perhaps not of, the sunny rows of partisans, worshippers, and boo-ers, the fair-weather holiday-makers and the children in caps.

But Giacometti's accession was no dream, no magic, no “hidden ball trick.” Hindsight is 20/20 (sometimes), but the oeuvre of the national pastime’s new “Über-alles” now looks like a doctored resume, so appropriate is it. From Ball Suspended (both a study of rhythms of form/motion and a “sign” of masculinity) to Nine Figures (no DH, of course), his record—you could look it up—points toward the fields that “Jocko,” as the headline writers surely will tab him, now rules.Ball Suspended (left) and Nine Figures (right)

Certainly, more recent milestones—Giacometti’s studies in “discipline,” his rethinking of gesture and “discernible stop”—must weigh heaviest in considering his coming Commissionership. But, I reminded myself as the No. 7 roared on (and, by the way, what memories that number stirs), Giacometti's earlier, preparatory works cannot be forgotten:

The Palace at 4 A.M.: a complex meditation on home and women, stadiums and seagulls. In The Meanings of Modern Art—a book now as essential to the fan as the Jamesian Abstract,  Boswell’s Life, or the baseball “bible”—Russell calls this matchstick construction “haunting for its uncanny mingling of practicality and the dream”—surely the stuff of which Commissioners are made.

Man Pointing: Ruth famously “calling” a home run; Giacometti, reinventing the idea of likeness, finds the 70-1/2-inch-high, whiplash-thin essence of the pigeon-toed barrel of a slugger.

(This photograph on display in the gallery)

City Square: a crossed-up infield, with the corners charging in while up the middle a confused convergence around a runner; urban distances in disarray.

No More Play: experiments with options of motion and the terrain, the surface itself (long before Astroturf), but insisting always on the human factor. Again Russell, on Play: “In the midst of this were human figures that were left stranded at the end of the game, with nowhere to go.” Russell incidentally sees Giacometti's existentialism as “the belief that in all human enterprises the odds are stacked against us and that all we can do is to play a losing game as lucidly as possible”—clearly the Boston view. Russell adds that “Ever since he had read Nietzsche and Schopenhauer at the age of 12, he had been familiar with the tragic sense of human destiny.” But he inexplicably makes no mention of Fenway, Snodgrass, or Dent.

In a recent conversation with Giacometti, although by mutual unspoken agreement we did not discuss baseball or sculpture, I sensed—perhaps I was encouraged to sense —a painfully earned new openness. “Yes,” he said in response to one question. “Yes,” he replied to another, and “I think so,” he agreed to a third.
The Giacometti in all of us tends toward reductiveness to that anguished nerve, that never-ending gut-check of the soul. But we also need that voice that says “Yes.” “Yes.” “I think so.”


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