Alexander Calder (1898-1976)
signed with initials and dated 'CA 57' (on the largest vertical element)
hanging mobile--painted sheet metal and wire
32 x 118 x 84 in. (81.3 x 299.7 x 213.4 cm.)
Executed in 1957.
Commissioned directly from the artist by the present owner
This work is registered in the archives of the Calder Foundation, New York, under application number A11328.
"I have made a number of things for the open air: all of them react to the wind, and are like a sailing vessel in that they react best to one kind of breeze" --Alexander Calder
Given their similar views on art and modern aesthetics it was perhaps inevitable that Eliot Noyes and Alexander Calder's paths should cross at some stage of their careers, but the fact that such a close personal and professional relationship should develop between the two is testament to their shared visions and aesthetic sensibilities. The exact details of the first meeting between two men have gone unrecorded, but it seems like that they first became aware of each other while Noyes was working at the architectural practice of Walter Gropius and Marcel Breuer, his professors at Harvard. Noyes had joined the firm soon after graduating from Harvard's School of Art and Design in 1938, and may have come into contact with Calder's work as the artist was a friend of Breuer and a familiar figure within the architectural community. A more formal introduction did not take place until Noyes was appointed as the first Director of Industrial Design at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1940. It was while Calder was working at the museum in 1941 installing one of his first exhibitions that the pair established what would become a long and fruitful relationship.
Their friendship flourished when Noyes commissioned Calder to produce a large sculpture for his recently built house in New Canaan, Connecticut. The revolutionary design of this modernist house meant that space was created in a central courtyard that would allow the work to be visible from all sides of this glass-walled building. Intrigued by the nature of this commission, Calder visited the house with a series of small maquettes of various designs that he had been working with for a number of years. Calder placed each model on top of a piano and using the light from an old projector would cast a large shadow of the work over the empty courtyard, thereby allowing Noyes and Calder to judge the size and scale of each design. Eventually the two men settled on a design that fitted both the scale and size of the space, and the work that became known as Black Beast was born. Remarkably the chosen design was one of Calder's earliest outdoor sculptures, first conceived in the 1930s, and Calder agreed to rework it in a heavier metal and recalled asking Noyes' advice on how to make it more stable. "Eliot Noyes, the architect, once came to me and wanted a certain stabile-Black Beast," Calder recollected, "It was at the time the biggest thing I'd ever made-eleven feet long by nine feet high, but in fairly light material. Noyes' interest encouraged me to have it done in heavier material, that is, one-quarter-inch iron plate. This furthermore, encouraged me to do other things as well in heavy material and also supplied some funds with which to do so" (A. Calder, quoted in G. Bruce, Eliot Noyes, London, 2006, p. 117). Noyes' technical advice was to become invaluable to Calder, as at this stage in his career his work was becoming dominated by monumental commissions from municipalities across Europe who were beginning to rebuild their civic spaces after the ravages of the Second World War. The importance of Black Beast within Calder's oeuvre is demonstrated in the fact that Noyes gifted this early stabile to the Museum of Modern Art in New York to be included as part of their permanent collection.
Calder was so enthralled by Noyes' new design of house that he agreed to produce a new mobile for the building. Untitled, 1957 was inspired directly by the space in which it was to hang for the next fifty years and Fred Noyes, Eliot's son, recalls how Calder studied the space intently so that he came up with 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 deeperI think the red color works very nicely with the houseas a spark" (F. Noyes, interviewed by Christie's, March 7, 2012). Noyes was so pleased with the finished work that he asked Calder for a second mobile and while Snow Flurry, 1948 wasn't commissioned specifically for the New Canaan space, Calder and Noyes specifically selected a work that would complement both the building and the existing Untitled. As Fred recalled "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. My sister got married right here and she has a particular fondness for it because it was right beside her, she said it was like having another bridesmaid right next to her. And that's the integration of it, of the views and the architectureall in one package" (Ibid.)
In addition to enhancing his own domestic space, Noyes felt that the sense of enjoyment and engagement that he had found in Calder's work could be of benefit in the corporate environment too. During his long tenure as Consulting Director of Design at IBM he was determined to embody a sense of corporate social responsibility through art as well as through good design and architecture. Noyes spent many hours searching for the best art for the company's offices, not only to enhance the space but also to reiterate the company's principles of design excellence. After a long search he selected several of Alexander Calder's large and colorful tapestries which he placed in the public and private areas of IBM's Corporate Headquarters in Armonk, New York. Snow Flurry along with Untitled are among the finest examples of Alexander Calder's mobile works, encompassing the unique sense of color, movement and dynamism that re-defined the expectations of a medium that had remained largely unchanged for centuries. "Why must art be static?" Calder once declared, "You look at an abstraction, sculptured or painted, an entirely exciting arrangement of planes, spheres, nuclei, entirely without meaning. It would be perfect but it is always still. The next step in sculpture is motion" These two works embody that sense of excitement and the sublime perfect of Calder's solution as he sets sculpture free from the confines of the pedestal and allows it to fulfil its dynamic potential.
Brett Gorvy, Chairman and International Head of Post-War and Contemporary Art discusses Christie's focus on Alexander Calder in the upcoming Post-War and Contemporary Art Evening Sale on 8 May 2012. [Audio]