Alexander Calder (1898-1976)
Alexander Calder (1898-1976)


Alexander Calder (1898-1976)
standing mobile--painted wood, steel, wire, rod and string
45½ x 38 1/8 x 35 in. (115.6 x 96.8 x 88.9 cm.)
Executed circa 1934.
Acquired directly from the artist, circa 1934
By descent to the present owner
V. Raynor, "Art: Standing Mobiles Of Calder at Knoedler," New York Times, 12 December 1980, p. C22.
Calder, Gouaches, Dessins, Tapisseries, exh. cat., Lodève, 2004, p. 20 (illustrated).
New York, M. Knoedler & Co., Inc., Alexander Calder: Standing Mobiles, December 1980-January 1981, n.p. (illustrated).
Turin, Palazzo a Vela, Calder, July-September 1983, p. 84, no. 137 (illustrated).

Brought to you by

Robert Manley
Robert Manley

Lot Essay

This work is registered in the archives of the Calder Foundation, New York, under application number A08967.

"Since the beginning of my work in abstract art, and even though it was not obvious at that time, I felt that there was no better model for me to work from than the Universe. Spheres of different sizes, densities, colors and volumes, floating in space, surrounded by vivid clouds and tides, currents of air, viscosities and fragrances--in their utmost variety and disparity" (A. Calder, handwritten statement, Exposicin Calder, 1955, Caracas [translation from Calder: Gravity and Grace, Bilbao, 2003, p. 52]).

Among Alexander Calder's earliest mobiles, Untitled uniquely shows the movement Calder introduced into his sculptures with astonishing effect. Executed in the early 1930s, the celestial forms of Untitled could be seen as sharing a sensibility with a Mondrian canvas. Calder had met Piet Mondrian in October 1930 at Mondrian's studio on Rue du Départ in Paris. As Calder later recalled, "It was a very exciting room. Light came in from the left and from the right, and on the solid wall between the windows there were experimental stunts with colored rectangles of cardboard tacked on. Even the victrola, which had been some muddy color, was painted red. I suggested to Mondrian that perhaps it would be fun to make these rectangles oscillate. And he, with a very serious countenance, said: 'No, it is not necessary, my painting is already very fast.'" (A. Calder and Jean Davidson, Calder, An Autobiography with Pictures, 1966, New York, p. 113)

Instead of literally mapping the universe, the sculpture suggests the planets' paths with a series of abstract forms. Calder attaches these by delicate metal rods and string to a single point on the outer frame, allowing each individual element to move gracefully as through orbiting its own sun. He created an assemblage of metal tubes and painted wooden spheres suspended from horizontal bars, perhaps recalling the Victorian scientific instruments that depicted the movement of the planets. However, Untitled has its origins in early European modernism. Calder created the work during a period in which he was heavily involved with the dramatically creative Parisian art scene. Untitled, made around the time of Calder's affiliation with Abstraction-Création, demonstrates several of the tenets proffered in the manifesto by this loose association of artists. Launched on February 15, 1931, to counteract the influence of the Surrealists, the leaders of the movement proclaimed that true art should be "progressive abstraction of forms from nature" and "a conception of pure geometric order the exclusive use of elements commonly called abstract such as circles, planes, bars, lines etc." (A. Calder, quoted in B. Leal, "Calder the Illustrator: Corporeal Writing to Organic Sign", Calder: The Paris Years 1926-1933, 2008, New Haven, p. 110). Some of Calder's static sculptures were exhibited in an early Abstraction-Création exhibition in 1931, and the pared down geometric forms provide a tantalizing glimpse of ideas that were to mature in the present lot. The work also referenced Neo-Plasticism, which lived on in Untitled's evocative form.

The graceful movement and spatial arrangement of the floating forms in Untitled are among the first examples of Calder's signature style. He described this unique language as a "system of the Universe" that he represented through his "detached bodies floating in space, of different sizes and densities, perhaps of different colors and temperatures, and surrounded and interlarded with wisps of gaseous condition, and some at rest, while others move in peculiar manners, seems to me the ideal source of form" (A. Calder, "What Abstract Art Means to Me," Museum of Modern Art Bulletin 18, no. 3 [Spring 1951], p. 8-9).

Untitled is also an early example of Calder introducing color to the sculptural medium, another defining aspect of his sculpture. This work contains all the colors that epitomize Calder's palette. The black, red, white and yellow evokes Mondrian's influence and shows both artists' love of color. Calder himself used color, not based on ideas of representation or decoration, but as an intrinsic part of the composition, using each pigment to help distinguish the different elements from each other, "I want things to be differentiated. Black and white are first--then red is next I often wish that I'd been a fauve in 1905" (A. Calder as quoted in Katherine Kuh, "Alexander Calder," The Artist's Voice: Talks with Seventeen Artists, 1962, New York, pp. 38-51). Untitled is a particularly fine example of this use of color, as he effortlessly groups colored elements, adding simplicity and elegance to the piece's graceful movement.

Calder executed Untitled at a time when there was renewed interest in astronomical matters amongst the wider public. In addition to his personal interest in the solar system, the early 1930s were a "golden age" age of astronomical discovery. Numerous asteroids were newly detected, some of which came in close proximity to the earth, causing great excitement in the international popular press. On March 14, 1930, a ninth planet, Pluto, was discovered and hailed as the major astronomical discovery of the century. Newspaper and magazine coverage about the new discovery continued for months and the public reveled in the excitement that followed the discovery. While the forms in Untitled do not represent specific astronomical entities, they suggest a strange echo of the wider scheme of things, a hint at the clockwork forces and motions that lie behind our everyday existence.


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