This work is registered in the archives of the Calder Foundation, New York, under application number A10291.
Measuring almost five feet across, the breadth and sweep of its horizontal reach suggesting the majestic, powerful and graceful wingspan of a large bird, this impressively scaled mobile is a remarkable example of Alexander Calder’s extraordinary oeuvre. With its abstract, streamlined forms and aerodynamic shapes, Untitled expresses the universal language of Modernist abstraction; expressing movement even when entirely still, the mobile brilliantly accomplishes Calder’s goal of combining both stillness and dynamic movement in one artwork.
The curvilinear, organic forms making up this elegant mobile are suspended by seven delicate wire superstructures, allowing them to turn and drift on air currents in lively interplay with each other. An aperture set in its top right corner, allowing air currents to flow through the piece and lending it visual interest and variety as well, offsets the largest of the shapes.
Divided into two segments, the left portion of this soaring and spectacular mobile consists of six progressively larger biomorphic shapes, made from the straightforward industrial sheet steel and wire that were Calder’s signature materials. It is designed and worked by hand, and the many small details (the loops Calder made in the wire armatures to link the elements of the mobile’s framework, for example) demonstrate the meticulous work that went into producing his art. The lines and contours also suggest the artist’s process, evoking the act of drawing in mid-air, suggesting freehand sketches made material and three dimensional, as if drawn in space.
Three floating forms in alternating red, black and yellow make up the right portion of the mobile, an effect that shows Calder’s interest in using subtle color contrasts and gradations to infuse the work with chromatic harmonies and asymmetries to create a balanced tension among the sculptures various segments, pulling them together to form a unified composition.
The mobile is dedicated to Calder’s friend Hans Richter, the German-born avant-garde painter, graphic artist, filmmaker and writer whose polymath and exceptional career intersected with the major currents of advanced art in the first half of the 20th century, including Expressionism, Dada, Surrealism and Constructivism. Calder contributed to Hans Richter’s 1947 experimental film Dreams That Money Can Buy, filmed in 1947, the first feature-length avant-garde film made in America. Calder can also be seen building mobiles in another Richter film, 8 x 8: A Chess Sonata in 8 Movements (1957).
Most of Hans Richter’s greatest accomplishments were realized through creative collaborations with other artists such as Alexander Calder. One of Richter’s essential goals as an artist was to achieve freedom in his work—freedom both of form and freedom of expression. One can see how this would influence Calder’s own art practice, as he introduced new sculptural forms and set them free in space, and would inspire the younger artist to dedicate a work to Richter.
Alexander Calder was a sculptor, but he was a sculptor of a very different sort: his extraordinary contribution was to create an entirely new variety of sculpture form whose unique feature was motion, exceptional for a medium previously known for its solid forms and heavy central cores, their mass anchoring them to the Earth.
His art freed the medium of sculpture from its traditional emphasis on heavy forms weighed down by gravity. Calder’s work is characterized by charming creations that move in response to touch or to subtle, slight currents of air. He synthesized ideas originating with Cubists, Constructivists, Surrealists, and other revolutionary movements but without choosing sides among the various avant-garde strains, instead translating the many experimental and innovative approaches into his own personal idiom.
Calder paved the way for younger, mid-20th century artists (John Chamberlain, Jean Tinguely, Robert Rauschenberg, Mark Di Suvero, Claes Oldenburg, and Jasper Johns, to name just a few) to pursue new methods and materials far beyond traditional boundaries. Calder began his career in the first decades of the 20th century, a time of dramatic upheaval in the art world, when revolutionary methods, materials, concepts, and ways of experiencing and understanding art were breaking through.
His “total production [during the last two decades of his life]—representing sculptures in a range of scales and types—was, as always, staggering, and it continued unabated until the end of his life…. Calder still spent days at his workbench cutting, bending, and assembling the objects himself…When [he] was not busy traveling or creating new work during these last decades, he was receiving numerous awards or arranging one of his many exhibitions” (M. Prather, Alexander Calder 1898-1976, exh. cat., National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C., 1998. p. 280).
There are few artists whose work is as widely enjoyed and admired as that of Alexander Calder. Art historians, curators and collectors alike appreciate his art, but so do people who may have previously taken no interest in art. Almost unique among artists, Calder’s work is capable of communicating a feeling of wonder that speaks to a truly universal range of people.