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    Sale 1997

    Post War And Contemporary Art Evening Sale

    13 May 2008, New York, Rockefeller Plaza

  • Lot 55

    Alexander Calder (1898-1976)

    Red, Orange and Blue

    Price Realised  


    Alexander Calder (1898-1976)
    Red, Orange and Blue
    signed with monogram 'CA' (on the largest black element)
    hanging mobile--painted sheet metal and wire
    58½ x 52 x 40 in. (148.6 x 132.1 x 101.6 cm.)
    Executed circa 1949.

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    This work is registered in the archives of the Calder Foundation, New York, under application number A09220.

    Alexander Calder's Mobiles are filled with play and poetry. Gently shifting in every wafting breeze, whether it is created by the stir of people, a breath of wind or a closing door, Red, Orange and Blue perfectly demonstrates the magic inherent in these lyrical sculptures. Its configuration changes according to its environment, the flock of shapes rearranging themselves constantly, resulting in a work that combines the mechanisms and appearance of an astrolabe or an orrery with the whimsy of a toy.

    The colored forms that comprise Red, Orange and Blue are evocative without being precisely referential to the "real" world. In its strange echo of the appearance of the forms in abstract paintings, Calder revealed his continued interest in Abstraction, which had begun almost two decades earlier in Paris:

    "My entrance into the field of abstract art came about as a result of a visit to the studio of Piet Mondrian in Paris in 1930.

    "I was particularly impressed by some rectangles of color he had tacked on his wall in a pattern after his nature.

    "I told him I would like to make it oscillate -- he objected" (Calder, quoted in C. Giménez & A.S.C. Rower (ed.), Calder: Gravity and Grace, London, 2004, p. 52).

    After a short time experimenting with painting, Calder returned to the realm of the three-dimensional, combining his life-long love of making toys with his new-found interest in abstraction and color. This resulted in a new range of works which his friend Marcel Duchamp dubbed "Mobiles", taking advantage of the word's dual meaning in French: it means both something that moves, and "motive."

    The introduction of movement to the realm of art and of sculpture was a great novelty, and resulted in a hugely enthusiastic reception of these works. Indeed, Mobiles became so influential that toys for children were invented taking their form as their inspiration, which must have been rewarding to the ever-of-a-sunny-disposition Calder. The artist used his unique aesthetic to create a range of works that provided great pleasure and variety in their movements and appearance, while also pushing back the boundaries of what art could and should do in the modern age. With hanging sculptures like Red, Orange and Blue, he brought a modern aesthetic to sculpture, while also occupying the unlikely stratosphere of the rafters of the exhibition space, forming a strange riposte to the famous painted ceilings of the days of yore. It is telling that the critic Michel Ragon wrote that, "A Calder is a sort of chandelier, which like all chandeliers hangs from the ceiling, but which, in contrast to other chandeliers, is not used as a light fixture, but as a perch on which to rest our dreams" (M. Ragon, quoted in J. Baal-Teshuva, Alexander Calder 1898-1976, Cologne, 2002, p. 24).

    The notion of introducing motion into art owed itself not only to Calder's revelation at Mondrian's studio, but also to seeing a demonstration of the machinery at the planetarium in Paris. This experience was seminal to Calder, linking the toy-like world of the mechanism with a sense of the representation of the cosmos itself. While the forms in Red, Orange and Blue do not represent specific astronomical entities, Calder was nonetheless trying to capture some strange echo of the wider scheme of things, a hint at the clockwork forces and motions that lie behind our everyday existence. "The underlying sense of form in my work has been the system of the Universe, or part thereof," Calder explained.

    "For that is a rather large model to work from. What I mean is the idea of detached bodies in space, of different sizes and densities, perhaps of different colors and temperatures, and surrounded and interlarded with wisps of gaseous condition, and some at rest, while others move in peculiar manners, seems to me the ideal source of form. I would have them deployed, some nearer together and some at immense distances. And great disparity among all of the qualities of these bodies, and their motions as well" (Calder, quoted in J.M. Marter, Alexander Calder, Cambridge, 1991, pp. 110-11).


    Galerie Maeght, Paris
    Marcel Mabille collection, Rhode Saint Genèse, Belgium
    Anon. sale; Sotheby's, New York, 17 May 2000, lot 36
    Acquired at the above sale by the present owner

    Pre-Lot Text



    Boston, Margaret Brown Gallery, Calder, 1949.
    Paris, Galerie Maeght, Calder: Mobiles and Stabiles, June-July 1950, no. 22.
    Amsterdam, Stedelijk Museum; Stockholm, Galerie Blanche; London, Lefevre Gallery; Vienna, Neue Galerie and Wuppertal, Galerie Parnass, Calder, October 1950-June 1951, no. 18 (illustrated; drawing after the work featured on the cover).
    Wüppertal, Galerie Parnasse, Calder Mobiles, 1952.
    Hamburg, Galerie Rudolf Hoffmann, Alexander Calder, June-July 1952. Munich, Moderne Galerie, Alexander Calder-Jean Miró, July-August 1952, no. 12.
    Frankfurt, Hanna Bekker von Rath, Alexander Calder, Paul Fontaine, Louise Rösler, February-March 1953, no. 40.
    Amsterdam, Stedelijk Museum, Bewogen-Beweging, March-April 1961.