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

Two Legs and a Belly

Alexander Calder (1898-1976)
Two Legs and a Belly
signed with the artist's initials 'CA' (on the top of the brass element)
standing mobile: painted sheet metal, brass and wire
16 x 17 x 6 in. (40.6 x 40.8 x 14.4 cm.)
Executed circa 1959
Perls Galleries, New York.
Dorothy Haas Rautbord Collection, Palm Beach (acquired from the above in 1959).
Her sale, Christie's London, 20 May 1998, lot 76.
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.
London, Grosvenor Gallery, Miro: graphics, Calder: mobiles, Ch'i Pai-shih: paintings, 1964, no. 76.

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Charles Wesley-Hourde
Charles Wesley-Hourde

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Lot Essay

This work is registered in the archives of the Calder Foundation, New York, under the application number A07881.

'When everything goes right a mobile is a piece of poetry that dances with the joy of life and surprises'
(A. Calder, Calder, London, 2004, p. 261)

Crowned by a series of multi-coloured discs circling majestically around its slender body, Two Legs and a Belly exemplifies the dynamic sense of movement and colour that Calder inserted into his most memorable works. The graceful cascade of white, blue and yellow discs is achieved by carefully counter-balancing these delicate elements with a substantial sliver of glistening metal that acts as both a visual and structural counter-balance within the work. This successful combination is evidence of Calder's exceptional talents not only as an artist, but also as an engineer, a talent which enabled him to harness the physical forces of his chosen medium with such spectacular effect. Added to his engineering skill is his bold use of colour, which when combined with the sensation of movement, produces some of the most visually spectacular works of his generation. For Calder, colour was not a representational force but rather an emotional one, in much the same way as the historical pioneers in non-traditional use of colour such as Henri Matisse and André Derain. As Calder himself once commented: 'I want things to be differentiated. Black and white are first - then red is next. I often wish that I had been a fauve in 1905.' (A. Calder, Calder, London 2004, p. 89).

The foundations of Calder's revolutionary ideas about sculpture were born out of a visit he paid to the studio of the Dutch painter, Piet Mondrian in 1930. Having experienced at first hand Mondrian's approach to abstraction, Calder was determined to try to introduce similar ideas to his chosen medium. He later recalled how influential this visit had been to his career, 'This one visit gave me a shock that started things. Though I had often heard the word 'modern' before, I did not consciously know or feel the term 'abstract'. So now at thirty-two, I wanted to paint and work in the abstract' (A. Calder, An Autobiography in Pictures, New York 1966, p. 113).

This jolt of inspiration launched Calder on an intense journey of discovery that resulted in ever increasingly complex constellations of colour and form. The period during which Two Legs and a Belly was executed was a particularly important time for Calder. During the second half of the 1950s he spent much of his time working on three major commissions that would cement his reputation as one of the most innovative artists of his generation. His mammoth mobile .125 was installed at New York's Idlewild Airport (now John F. Kennedy International Airport), his Whirling Ear was placed outside the U.S. Pavillion at the 1958 Brussels World Fair and La spirale was installed outside the UNESCO headquarters in Paris. In the case of his Parisian installation, being chosen to install his work in such an illustrious location Calder joined a veritable who's-who of twentieth century sculptors including Jean (Hans) Arp, Joan Miró, Isamu Noguchi, Henry Moore and Pablo Picasso - the six artists selected to place their work in such a prestigious location. Despite his concentration on these monumental projects, Calder could not relinquish completely working on the scale of Two Legs and a Belly. As the perfect complement to his grand institutional commissions, works such as the present work allowed Calder to continue direct hands-on contact with the sculptural form that he had pioneered. The result was works which not only displayed the artist's mastery of his medium but also imbued a sense of fun into his work, something that was very important to him, as he once commented 'I want to make things that are fun to look at' (A. Calder quoted in M. Prather, Alexander Calder 1989-1976, Washington, D.C. 1998, p. 279).

Two Legs and a Belly clearly demonstrates the all-encompassing universality of Calder's art. His unique ability was to create works of exquisitely balanced composition which retain their harmony when moved by the merest breath of wind. The striking red, yellow, blue and white elements are all coupled together using a series of exceptional mechanisms that allow them to move independently of each other yet retaining a unity that ensures that none of the elements dominate or touch each other. While it conjures up many associations, Two Legs and a Belly is not fettered by any direct notion of representation. Instead, it interacts with its environment and its viewer, participating actively in the universe in its own right. A push or a gust of wind will set its carefully balanced elements in motion, introducing the magical element of chance and movement that make Calder's sculptures so fascinating. As Calder himself said, 'When everything goes right a mobile is a piece of poetry that dances with the joy of life and surprises' (A. Calder, Calder, London, 2004, p. 261).

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