This work is registered in the archives of the Calder Foundation, New York, under application number A09443.
Painted during the height of his career, Alexander Calder’s Untitled, 1953 captures with immediacy the animation and freedom of the artist’s revered mobiles and stabiles, while at the same time evoking the tenets of Surrealism that influenced his early artistic development. While Calder is widely celebrated for his prominence in redefining the history of American modernism, the influence of the European avant-garde during Calder’s formative years in Paris during the 1920s and 1930s is often overlooked. In works such as this, Calder transcribes his sculptural vocabulary into two-dimensions to create illusory configurations that embrace the accident-chance and spontaneity of Surrealist artists, who, as the art historian William Rubin explains, “worked toward an interior image” (W. Rubin, quoted by M. Rosenthal, The Surreal Calder, Houston, 2005, p. 16). The fluidity of the hazy blue and silky yellow backdrop creates a dreamlike atmosphere through which an eclectic array of shapes and bodily forms appear in inky blackness. The outline of an anonymous form occupying the lower right of the composition points over a distant mountain range to an enlarged floating head with caricatured features; these forms occupy metamorphic states that straddle the natural and mythical realms. The blue and yellow disk and the pointed red forms that hover over the backdrop create a magical dimension and draw parallels with the graphical arrangements of Calder’s mobiles and stabiles.
Untitled’s enigmatic forms recall the Constellations of Joan Miró, Calder’s lifelong confidant since his early years in Paris, and evoke the epiphany that sparked Calder’s artistic career during his youth. While working as a mechanic on a steamship off the coast of Guatemala in 1922, Calder woke on the ship’s deck at dawn to see the rising sun and setting moon; “I saw the beginning of a fiery red sunrise on one side and the moon looking like a silver coin on the other. Of the whole trip this impressed me most of all; it left me with a lasting sensation of the solar system” (Ibid, p. 70). A phenomenon akin to Calder’s observation, Surrealist poet Paul Éluard explained, “It should be possible to see day and night simultaneously, to capture in one glance the visual clarity of daylight and the visionary quality of night…Such a moment in time represents [André] Breton’s idea of surreality” (Ibid). In the present work, Calder constructs an otherworldly composition of celestial forms that capture in one glance the fantastical vision of day and night and conjure a surreal slippage between waking and dreaming states. A remarkable work that marks Calder at the height of his artistic career, Untitled offers a window to the artist’s Surrealist influences and cherished memories.