In 1954, a young architect named Gira Sarabhai wrote to Alexander Calder inviting him to her family home in Ahmedabad, India. In the three weeks that the artist spent at the Sarabhai compound between January and February 1955 he produced a group of sculptures that rank among his finest works.
Largely unseen by the public since their creation, a selection of these works was brought to auction for the very first time in May. ‘Entitled Calder’s Voyage to India, the collection not only told the story of the artist’s relationship with the Sarabhai family, but also of a new country asserting its independence through culture,’ explains Francis Outred, Chairman and Head of Post-War and Contemporary Art for Europe.
As the specialists in the Post-War and Contemporary Art department looked through reams of archival material — including letters, photographs, maps and itineraries — they began to piece together a picture of the thriving creative hub that the Sarabhais cultivated in Ahmedabad following the Indian Independence Act.
Le Corbusier stayed with the family while designing the city of Chandigarh; others followed, including Isamu Noguchi, Robert Rauschenberg, Henri Cartier-Bresson and John Cage. Charles and Ray Eames worked closely with Gira Sarabhai and her brother to establish the world-renowned National Institute of Design, commissioned by Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. ‘As our research continued to throw up new stories,’ Outred reveals, ‘it became clear that Calder’s sculptures were part of a much broader narrative: one of cultural exchange at a pivotal moment in global history.’
In India, Calder’s practice found a fitting home, the specialist adds. ‘As an artist very much inspired by nature, he relished the verdant grounds of the Sarabhai estate, and worked primarily on a bench outside. With deeply evocative titles — Sumac, Franji Pani, Red Stalk, White Moon — the vibrant colours and lilting motion of the works he created conjured the beauty, grandeur and languid heat of their tropical surroundings.’
‘Our dedicated catalogue featured archival pictures of the works in situ,’ continues Outred, ‘as well as outstanding photography by Phil Brakefield, who made his own voyage to India in order to capture the largest work in its stunning original setting.’