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

Untitled

Details
Alexander Calder (1898-1976)
Untitled
signed with initials 'CA' (on the largest element)
hanging mobile--painted sheet metal and wire
43 x 31 x 14 in. (109.2 x 78.7 x 35.6 cm.)
Executed circa 1947.
Provenance
Collection of the artist
Private collection, New York, circa 1965
Anon. sale; Sotheby's, New York, 16 November 1995, lot 250
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner
Literature
P.E. Guerrero, Calder at Home: The Joyous Environment of Alexander Calder, New York, 1998, pp. 9 and 28-29 (illustrated in color).
C. Giménez and A.S.C. Rower, eds., Calder: Gravity and Grace, exh. cat., Fundacion del Museu Guggenheim Bilbao, 2003, pp. 40 and 104 (illustrated in color).
P.E. Guerrero, A Photographer's Journey, New York, 2007, pp. 176-177 (illustrated in color).
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Lot Essay

This work is registered in the archives of the Calder Foundation, New York, under application number A13320.

"Then there is the idea of an object floating--not supported--the use of a very long thread as a long arm in cantilever as a means of support seems to best approximate this freedom from the earth" (A. Calder, Alexander Calder, 1898-1976, New Haven, 1998, p. 230).

Though celebrated for his use of primary colors, some of Calder's most engaging works are his monochrome mobiles. With its dramatic black forms that seemingly hover effortlessly in mid-air, Untitled provides us with an outstanding early example of this important facet of the artist's career--works that came to highlight both the artist's technical mastery and his unrivalled eye for aesthetic detail. The beauty of Untitled lies in its simplicity; from the formal purity of the dark forms to the sublime gracefulness of the sculpture's movement, this particular work demonstrates the range of Calder's skills. As a remarkable early example of his pierced sheet metal in mobile format, it is little wonder that Untitled remained in the artist's personal collection for nearly two decades, a treasured example of the significant innovations that he spent his life trying to perfect.

The mobile is structured along a central spine, with wires that extend freely in all directions. While two pierced discs punctuate the bottom of the mobile, the arms reach upwards and outwards, making use of their three-dimensional area. The mobile's open shape and quiet beauty recall a flower in full bloom. In a joyful declaration of its boundless space, this work shows the artist's awareness that volume is not a solid mass; here, volume is determined by the total space within the mobile's range.

The mobile not only shows Calder's consideration of multi-dimensional aspects, it also demonstrates his interest in multiple viewpoints. Here, Calder's formal concerns for his work being observed "in the round" align with those of traditional sculptors. Yet viewing Untitled is hardly conventional: the mobile's form appears strikingly different from various angles. It looks elegantly vertiginous if seen from the side. From below, the concentration of black discs is visually arresting, and the shapes appear to float beside one another on one horizontal plane.

In this 1947 sculpture, Calder's shaped discs resemble anthropomorphic forms that demonstrate the profound influence of Joan Miró and Paul Klee on his art. From below, the mobile's hovering shapes resemble lily pads on water, especially with one distinctly fish shaped disc. A side-view reveals how Calder suspends the fish disc in an upward trajectory so that it mimics the quiet movements of a real fish, leaping out of a pond. Despite depicting such dynamic forms and movement, the quiet beauty of this work recalls the meditative representations of nature in Japanese art.

In 1945, the interwar rationing of sheet metal ended and Calder was able to return to the medium with renewed interest, now piercing his metal discs. The mobile's cut-out pieces create a lyrical effect with their suggestion of weightlessness. By heightening the work's sense of transparency and surface animation, he manipulated the visual and physical weight of the entire structure. Despite placing larger discs at the bottom of the mobile, he cleverly fashions shapes so that they appear to be cut out from the bottom larger discs in careful consideration of balanced weight. The discs seem to be floating upwards away from their cut-outs. As the artist 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). This demonstration of lightness shows how Calder, at this point in his career, has mastered the mobile and its visual poetry. While this mobile is a rare early example of pierced discs, it was executed at the pinnacle of his work in all-black sculpture, which he made from the late 1930s to the early 1960s.

By taking away distractions of color, the artist lyrically highlights the patterns of motion around a central axis. Untitled demonstrates Calder's belief that, compared to the movement of his mobiles, color was "secondary" (A. Calder, quoted in H. Mulas and H.H. Arnason, Calder, London, 1971, p. 69). In fact, Calder's prolific experimentation with black mobiles and stabiles inspired the recent exhibition, Calder Noir, organized by the Calder Foundation in collaboration with the Kukje Gallery to celebrate Kukje Gallery's 30th anniversary. Just as in the 1947 mobile, this show demonstrated how Calder's work couples strong silhouettes and complicated construction to evoke a pure play of movement. Its French title, "Noir," highlights Calder's years in Paris as a key influence on his all-black sculptures. In fact, it was in Paris that Calder visited Piet Mondrian, who first inspired the American artist to experiment with abstract blocks of color; namely white, black and the primaries. Calder recalled, "I was particularly impressed by some rectangles of color he had tacked on his wall in a pattern after his nature. I told him I would like to make it oscillate--he objected" (A. Calder, quoted in C. Giménez and A.S.C. Rower, (eds.), Calder: Gravity and Grace, London, 2004, p. 52). But the complicated mechanics of this mobile, set in such an elegantly free and dynamic form, are indebted to Calder's background as an engineer. Having graduated from Stevens Institute of Technology in 1919 and worked various engineering jobs before turning to art, Calder's understanding of mechanical properties is essential to his mobiles.

With its monochromatic palette, Untitled contains the optimistic tone of many of Calder's works from this period due to its evocation of natural and biomorphic forms out of industrial metal. Here, its calligraphic forms and kinetic lines boldly reach out and test the limits of the surrounding space. In this way, Calder endowed the mobile and the surrounding space with metaphorical and literal freedom.

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