Alexander Calder (1898-1976)


Alexander Calder (1898-1976)
wall relief--painted and unpainted wood and wire
28 x 16 x 11 in. (71.1 x 40.6 x 28 cm.)
Executed circa 1943.
Herbert and Mercedes Matter, New York
Edward Larrabee Barnes and Mary Barnes, New York
By descent to the present owner
Sale room notice
Please note the present lot is reproduced upside down in the catalogue.

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Lot Essay

This work is registered in the archives of the Calder Foundation, New York, under application number A21888.

Executed circa 1943, Untitled epitomizes the revolutionary aspect of Calder's invention. Its provenance also provides a fascinating insight into the artist's own personal life. Calder rebelled against readily-accepted notions of what art could and should be. This assemblage of wood and wire suggests a universe. The contrast between the wood and the wire in Untitled allows Calder to penetrate and explore notions of space and material in a more formal manner, questioning the very building blocks of sculpture and, indeed, of the universe. Untitled evokes some strange cosmological system, reflecting the artist's long-standing fascination with the Cosmos and its mysterious inner-workings. As Calder himself said, "the underlying sense of form in my work has been the system of the Universe, or part thereof. For that is a rather large model to work from" (A. Calder, quoted in C. Giménez & A.S.C. Rower, ed., Calder: Gravity and Grace, London, 2004, p. 52). Untitled, then, is the product of Calder's seemingly effortless capacity to balance the toy-like with the grand and universal.

It is a tribute to the importance of Untitled that the work was first in the collection of Mercedes and Herbert Matter. A hugely influential photographer and graphic designer, Herbert Matter revolutionized photography and graphic design in the 1940's and 50's. Born in Switzerland but spent much of his life in the United States, having studied in Paris under Fernand Léger. He subsequently enjoyed a career that involved teaching at Yale and working with Le Corbusier as well as the celebrated husband-and-wife designers Charles and Ray Eames. Calder's fast friend and frequent collaborator, Matter chronicled the artist, his works and his studio over a range of decades. Many of the most recognised photographs of Calder were taken by Matter; he was also responsible for the celebrated film The Works of Calder, made in two years in collaboration with Burgess Meredith. This captured many of Calder's works in color and, crucially, in motion; its music was a specially-created score by John Cage.

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