• Post-War and Contemporary Art  auction at Christies

    Sale 2557

    Post-War and Contemporary Art Evening Sale

    8 May 2012, New York, Rockefeller Plaza

  • Lot 11

    Alexander Calder (1898-1976)

    Snow Flurry

    Price Realised  

    Estimate

    Alexander Calder (1898-1976)
    Snow Flurry
    signed with initials 'CA' (on the largest white element)
    hanging mobile--painted sheet metal and wire
    60 x 84 in. (152.4 x 213.4 cm.)
    Executed in 1950.


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    This work is registered in the archives of the Calder Foundation, New York, under application number A11329.

    "The simplest forms in the universe are the sphere and the circle. I represent them by disks and then I vary them. My whole theory about art is the disparity that exists between form, masses and movement" --Alexander Calder


    Distinguished by their graceful movement and chromatic integrity, Alexander Calder's fiery red Untitled and the alluring Snow Flurry are among the finest examples of the artist's iconic mobiles he ever created. Their constantly changing forms become hypnotic, as they effortlessly morph from form into another, each reacting to the gentle encounter of a breeze or the motion of people around them. In addition to being exemplary examples of Calder's art, these two magnificent sculptures mark the remarkable friendship between two of the twentieth century's most creative minds. Eliot Noyes, the influential modernist architect and industrial design pioneer first met the sculptor Alexander Calder when Noyes was the first ever Director of Industrial Design at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. With their shared love of modern art and passion for innovative design, Calder was a natural choice when Noyes wanted to commission a work of art for his new house he had recently built in New Canaan, Connecticut. The revolutionary design of this glass-walled modernist house meant that Noyes was looking for a work that would match the pure aesthetics of its surroundings and he invited Calder to initially supply a work for an interior courtyard. Black Beast proved so successful that in 1957 Noyes asked Calder to provide another work, this time one of his iconic mobiles, to be hung inside the home.

    The result was Untitled, one of Calder's most outstanding mobiles and a work that demonstrates the artist's exemplary aesthetic and technical skill. Characterized by its fiery red tendrils and graceful snaking arm that jumps into life when touched by the breeze, this majestic work fitted perfectly into the space where it would hang for the next fifty years. Fred Noyes, Eliot's son, recalls how Calder studied the location intently before arriving at a design that spoke to the integrity of the house, "I think Calder was very aware of walking through the front door there and being able to walk under it, so he didn't make it any deeper I think the red color works very nicely with the house as a spark" (F. Noyes, interviewed by Christie's, March 7, 2012). Corresponding to the streamlined modernist proportions of the house, the resulting sculpture complements its environment on both the vertical and horizontal planes as a sequence of crescent shapes and triangular forms soar just above head height, like birds gliding on summer thermals. Below them, a graceful arc of red elements sweeps round in the manner of a majestic serpent, snaking through the air and commanding the space which it explores. Together this magical combination of both form and movement provides Untitled with the elements that make it unrivalled within Calder's extensive oeuvre.
    Noyes was so captivated by Untitled that he asked Calder for a second mobile, and while Snow Flurry wasn't specifically commissioned for the New Canaan space like Untitled was, Calder and Noyes worked together to select a work that would complement both the building and the existing sculpture. Snow Flurry inhabits a more holistic space within the home. Designed to be installed at a much lower height, the cascade of graduated white disks falls slowly to the ground recalling the winter storms that inspired its name. Designed to fully interact with its environment, Snow Flurry leaps into life at the slightest opportunity. As Fred Noyes recalls "the white one is actually very interesting. It is in a circulation path, you know, you tend to come in the front door, and you walk down to the piano, or you come into the room. So, the notion that you don't want to touch it is turned on its ear, that you walk through it, brush against it and it becomes part of the ambience. And that's the integration of it, of the views and the architecture all in one package" (Ibid.). This feeling of buoyancy, almost weightlessness, succinctly captured the movement that Calder had been trying to perfect in his mobiles for a number of years. Speaking a while later, Calder described the essence of what he was trying to achieve, "Then there is the idea of an object floating-not supported-the use of a very long thread as a long arm in cantilever as a means of support seems best to approximate this freedom from the earth" (A. Calder, quoted in M. Prather, Alexander Calder 1898-1976, Washington., D.C., 1998, p. 231).

    Eliot Noyes' reputation as one of America's leading modernist architects and industrial design pioneers was based on a simple philosophy; that good design fulfills its function, respects its materials and is suited to its methods of production. With these basic tenets he built up a hugely influential practice that spanned both architecture and design, even going so far as to encourage large multi-national corporations to place good design at the heart of the company's business ethos. After studying architecture at Harvard, Noyes began his career at the architectural firm run by Walter Gropius, the founder of the Bauhaus. Noyes became a leading member of what became known as the 'Harvard Five', a group of architects who settled in New Canaan, Connecticut. Made up of some of the post-war periods leading practitioners of the International Style, the five (Noyes plus Marcel Breuer, Philip Johnson, Landis Groves and John M. Johansen) were all influenced by Gropius, whose championing of clean lines and minimal aesthetics had revolutionized architecture throughout Europe. It was Noyes who first encouraged his friends and colleagues to relocate to New Canaan, resulting in the small town becoming nationally recognized for its many examples of modernist architecture. Over one hundred modern homes were eventually built in and around the town, including Philip Johnson's iconic Glass House, and five of these remain on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places. Noyes himself designed a total of five houses in the area cementing his reputation as one of the most innovative and pioneering architects of his generation.

    In addition to his architectural practice, Noyes also developed an enviable reputation as one of America's most respected corporate and industrial designers, overhauling the products and branding of major companies including IBM, Westinghouse and Mobil Oil. One of his biggest clients was the industrial giant IBM for whom he oversaw all aspects of their industrial design process, including the development of the iconic Selectric typewriter launched in 1961. The key to Noyes success was not a top down prescriptive approach that many expected, including the President of IBM, Thomas Watson Jr. who recalled, "I wanted factories, products and sales offices all done in such a way that a person could look at any of them and say instantly, 'That's IBM'. But Noyes said this would be self-defeating. If we tried to fit a single uniform image, it would eventually become tired and dated. Instead, he suggested the IBM's theme be simply the best in modern design. Whenever we needed something built or decorated, we would commission the best architects, designers and artist, and give them relatively free hand to explore new ideas in their own styles" (T. Watson Jr., as quoted in G. Bruce, Eliot Noyes, London, 2006, p. 157). As well as overseeing the design of everything from product, building and even office layouts Noyes wanted to share his belief in the enriching power of modern art, and IBM offices and manufacturing facilities soon became the site of major works by Henry Moore, Isamu Noguchi, and his close friend Alexander Calder.

    The friendship between Noyes and Calder was far more than a relationship between artist and client. The two shared a number of fundamental beliefs about art, design and a philosophy for modern living. At the heart of Noyes' design philosophy was the embodiment of clarity that he applied to all his work, whether it be architecture, product design or corporate identities. In his architecture, Noyes' views manifested themselves in a rigorous understanding of the relationship between several contrasting elements - primarily, in architectural terms, between the public and private areas of the house. This Bauhaus design ethic - regarding the totality of design-not only influenced the way he designed homes, but also the way he designed corporations and the products that were made for them. His work for IBM, Westinghouse and Mobile Oil spread this philosophy of good design around the world. Similarly, the quality of Calder's designs for both his mobiles and stabiles lies in the totality of their design and execution-how scale, color and degree of movement all combine into one enchanted work that is inherently suited to its environment, whether that be a private home or public space. Together Noyes and Calder exemplified this holistic approach to art and architecture. As Noyes himself noted, modern art and modern architecture enjoy a symbiotic relationship and one which has the power to transcend the everyday and allow us to revel in the sublime, "This intimate and inescapable blending of art and life enriches our daily existence. My conclusion is that modern architecture is good for art collections - it provides good surfaces, good and varied lighting, interesting textures and backgrounds. Beyond all this, it provides an intimate, normal and unselfconscious exposure to works of art which enables us to enjoy them to the fullest. (E. Noyes, 'Wall Houses,' Art in America, January-February 1968, pp. 57-65).

    Provenance

    Acquired directly from the artist by the present owner


    Saleroom Notice

    Please note that the correct date for this work is 1950.


    Pre-Lot Text

    Property from the Estate of Mrs. Eliot Noyes


    Literature

    Calder in Connecticut, exh. cat. Hartford, Wadsworth Atheneum, 2000, pp. 121-122 (illustrated).


    Exhibited

    Hartford, Wadsworth Atheneum, Alexander Calder: Mobiles/Naum Gabo: Kinetic Constructions and Constructions in Space, October-November 1953, p. 15, no. 7 (illustrated).
    Cambridge, Harvard University, Graduate School of Design, Calder, April-May 1955, no. 3.