In 1954, Alexander Calder received a letter from Gira Sarabhai, beginning an extraordinary journey and a lifelong friendship. Her letter offered the artist an opportunity to become part of the thriving creative hub that, thanks to the patronage and vision of the Sarabhai family, was changing the cultural landscape of Ahmedabad, in western India, during the 1950s.
Alexander Calder with Gira Sarabhai, Ahmedabad, India, 1955.
Gira and her brother Gautam had founded the Calico Textile Museum — arguably the best of its kind in the world — as well as the city’s celebrated National Institute of Design. As dedicated patrons of the arts, they welcomed leading figures of the European and American avant-garde to their home, among them Isamu Noguchi, Le Corbusier and John Cage. Others would soon follow, including Robert Rauschenberg, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Richard Neutra, Charles and Ray Eames and Alexander Calder.
Alexander and Louisa Calder in India, 1955. Photo: Calder Foundation, New York / Art Resource, New York
In the three weeks that Calder spent at the Sarabhai family compound in January and February of 1955, he produced a group of sculptures that rank among his finest works. Held in the same private collection since their creation, and largely unseen by the public, the works offered for auction chart the development of the family’s relationship with Calder. Together, they also testify to an artist at the height of his powers, whose early studies in engineering and subsequent immersion in the 1920s Parisian art scene had given birth to one of the very first kinetic visual languages.
Alexander Calder (1898–1976), Untitled, 1952. Hanging mobile — sheet metal, wire and paint. 41 1/4 x 45 1/4 x 10 5/8 in. (104.8 x 115 x 27 cm.) Estimate: $2,500,000–3,500,000. This work will be offered in the Post War and Contemporary Art Evening Sale on 10 May at Christie’s New York
Each work is a masterpiece of precision engineering, a vibrant fusion of optics and kinetics. Created in the gardens of the family estate, Calder’s sculptures became part of the landscape, moving fluidly between abstraction and nature. Franji Pani — titled after the tropical flowering tree — Sumac 17 and Rouge et Noir recall Calder’s verdant surroundings. Claw, Red Stalk and Untitled display instances of rare technical innovation.
Alexander Calder (1898–1976), Sumac 17, 1955. Hanging mobile — sheet metal, wire and paint. 41 5/8 x 75 1/2 x 39 3/8 in. (105.7 x 192 x 100 cm.) Estimate: $4,000,000–6,000,000. This work will be offered in the Post War and Contemporary Art Evening Sale on 10 May at Christie’s New York
Each of these works powerfully conjures its original setting, their colour, shape and motion evoking the rustling breeze, the languid heat, the twisted vines and scented blooms, the radiance of the sun and the grandeur of the Sarabhai estate. In India, Calder’s practice found a fitting new home and fresh inspiration for his inimitable expressions of natural beauty.
Main image: Alexander Calder (1898–1976). Untitled, 1955. Standing mobile — sheet metal, rod, wire and paint. 108 5/8 x 142 1/2 x 59 in. (276 x 362 x 150 cm.) Estimate: $6,000,000–9,000,000. This work will be offered in the Post War and Contemporary Art Evening Sale on 10 May at Christie’s New York