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Alexander Calder (1898-1976)
Property from the Collection of Diane and Robert Moss
Alexander Calder (1898-1976)

The Wave

Alexander Calder (1898-1976)
The Wave
signed with initials and dated 'CA 66' (on the tallest element)
stabile--painted sheet metal
104¼ x 97 x 74 in. (264.8 x 246.4 x 188 cm.)
Executed in 1966.
Perls Galleries, New York
Mr. and Mrs. Oscar Kolin, 1967
By descent to present owner
E. Zafran et al., Calder in Connecticut, exh. cat., Hartford, Wadsworth Atheneum, 2000, p. 142 (illustrated in color).

Lot Essay

This work is registered in the archive of the Calder Foundation, New York, under application number A13057.

With its seductive, curvaceous outline enclosing a dark, inky-black core, Alexander Calder's The Wave captures all the dramatic energy and mystery of the ocean. One of the most dramatic of his outdoor works, it conjures up the majestic qualities of the sea, from the peak of its cresting wave to the gentler, softer breakers lapping at its feet. Calder was a master at capturing not only the essence of form in his sculpture but also transferring this to a physical form with supreme skill and grace. By combining his skills as an engineer with his artistic abilities, Calder was able to produce works, which not only dominated their surroundings, but also produced a sense of drama and excitement that enthralled all who saw them.

Calder was enthralled by the sea. Many of his trips to and from Europe were made by boat, and in 1932, he made a particularly memorable night-time journey across the Mediterranean: "We passed the Straits of Gibraltar late at night, and the water was somewhat phosphorescent. Porpoises overtaking us, sometimes swimming three or four abreast, outlined by the phosphorescence, would scratch the surface against the bow of the boat - a truly wonderful sight" (A. Calder, An Autobiography with Pictures, New York, 1966, p. 139). This love of the sea also inspired one of Calder's other great works from 1966. La Grand Voile (Great Sail), a monumental stabile, was installed that year in the McDermott Court at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (Cambridge, MA)--the striking metal blades capturing the force of the wind like the sails of a majestic schooner.

The graceful sense of movement that captured Calder's imagination on his various ocean journeys manifests itself in the work's arching curves that mimic the rising and falling waves that form the central motif of this elegant sculpture. In addition, Calder's unique ability to capture a sense of movement in a static sculpture is perfectly demonstrated by the almost kinetic sense of movement that is gained by the 360 - degree nature of this work. As the viewer walks around the sculpture the different planes of the sculpture appear and disappear, recalling the constantly changing nature of the sea as the waves rise and fall in such a dramatic way. This ability to capture movement in static form was highly praised, including by the French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre, who commented: "His one aim is to create chords and cadences of unknown movements" (J. Sartre, "Visiting Artists Share Their Talent," MIT News, www.mit.edu).

The sense of drama that is inherent in this work can also be attributed to Calder's decision to fabricate the work in a single color, black. One of the key factors that distinguished Calder's work throughout his life was his use of color, but by deliberately omitting his usual eye-catching primary colors in The Wave, he focuses attention on the purity of the form itself. This device enhances the work's already dramatic silhouette, and coupled with the other, almost minimal aspects of the piece, such as the thin, narrow body, this refusal of color in The Wave has the effect of enhancing the work's grace and beauty.
Alexander Calder's outdoor works are the culmination of a lifelong dedication to redefining the physical and aesthetic nature of sculpture. Having spent his career introducing notions of color and movement into the previously static and monochromatic medium during the last twenty years of his life, the artist found new inspiration by devoting his greatest efforts to this exciting new phase of his career. Calder had become increasingly attracted to larger-scale works, not only because they offered him the opportunity to introduce his ideas about sculpture to a larger audience, but also because they allowed him to work on a different set of processes and challenges: "There has been an agrandissement in my work," Calder said in 1960. "It's true that I've more or less retired from the smaller mobiles. I regard them as just fiddling. The engineering on the big objects is important..."(A. Calder, quoted in M. Prather, Alexander Calder 1898-1976, exh. cat., National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1998, p. 279).

Outdoor sculpture has always been an important part of Calder's oeuvre, and he made his first outdoor works in his studio in Roxbury, Connecticut using the same techniques and materials as in his smaller works. Exhibited outside, Calder's initial standing mobiles moved elegantly in the breeze, bobbing and swirling in natural, spontaneous rhythms. The first few outdoor works in fact were too delicate for strong winds, and Calder was forced to rethink his fabrication process. The larger works were made under his direction using the classic enlargement techniques used in different ways by traditional sculptors, including his father and grandfather. Calder began to draw his designs on brown craft paper, which he enlarged using a grid. His large-scale works could be created according to his exact specifications while simultaneously allowing him the liberty to adjust or correct a shape or line if necessary.

The evocative curves and flowing forms that comprise The Wave's graceful form are a fitting tribute to Alexander Calder's skill both as an artist and an engineer. The ingenious nature of its conception and fabrication results in an ever-changing profile that recalls perfectly the magnetic nature of the sea. The Wave represents perfectly the beautiful simplicity of Calder's art.

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