This work is registered in the archives of the Calder Foundation, New York, under application number A08962.
S-Shaped Vine is an important large-scale hanging mobile that was exhibited in a breakthrough 1946 exhibition at Galerie Louis Carré in Paris. Calder had been celebrated in a major retrospective in 1943-1944 at the Museum of Modern Art--the youngest artist to be given such treatment--but was less known in Europe. Although his bi-continental living arrangement between New York and Paris had made him many friends in art world circles, he had not had a solo show in Europe since 1933.
Executed in New York, the sculpture for the Carré show were shipped piecemeal to Paris. Due to postal restrictions, no package could be larger than 18 x 10 x 2 inches, prompting Calder to create works that could easily be dismantled. The challenge was to work within the restriction, yet still create a body of large-scale works for the cavernous gallery space. Calder brilliantly succeeded, exhibiting a diverse body of unique mobiles, stabiles and constellations. After months of logistical problems, mislaid packages and customs difficulties, the exhibition opened on 25 October 1946 to widespread praise, marking the beginning of Calder's international acclaim which continues to the present date.
S-Shaped Vine's subject is an abstracted natural form, ostensibly a sinuous vine with various-shaped leaves and flowers. Scattered elements are punctured with various shapes that both influence the movement of the sculpture through the air as well as bring the sculpture to life with its suggestions of mouths and eyes. When in motion, the "leaves" jauntily dance on the branches, which shoot off from the sculpture's twisted "backbone." Calder's manipulation of the size of the elements, which are tiny at the bottom and grow in size towards the top, give the sculpture a powerful expanding sensation, like a blooming flower or an ecstatic dancer in rapturous movement.
At Calder's request, Jean-Paul Sartre wrote the introduction for the exhibition catalogue:
"Sculpture suggests motion, painting suggests light or space. Calder suggests nothing, he fashions real, living motions which he has captured. His mobiles signify nothing, refer to nothing but themselves: they are, that is all: they are absolutes...The motions, which are meant only to please, to enchant the eye, have nevertheless a profound meaning, a metaphysical one. Motion must come to the mobile from some source. Once Calder supplied them with electric motors. Today he abandons them to nature, in a garden or near an open window. He lets them flutter in the wind like aeolian harps. They breathe, they are nourished by the air. They take their lives from the mysterious life of the atmosphere" (Quoted in J. Marter, Alexander Calder, Cambridge 1991, p. 215).
Fig. 1 Cover of the 1946 Louis Carré catalogue
Courtesy The Alexander and Luisa Calder Foundation
c Art Resource, New York