Alexander Calder (1898-1976)
Andy Williams: An American Legend
Alexander Calder (1898-1976)

Black: Two Dots and Eleven

Alexander Calder (1898-1976)
Black: Two Dots and Eleven
signed with initials and dated 'CA 58' (on the largest element)
hanging mobile--painted sheet metal and wire
44 x 64 in. (111.7 x 162.5 cm.)
Executed in 1958.
Perls Galleries, New York
Fairweather-Hardin Gallery, Chicago
Mr. and Mrs. Leigh B. Block, Chicago, 1959
Their sale; Sotheby's, New York, 20 May 1981, lot 348
Brett Mitchell Collection, Cleveland
Private collection, Detroit
Greenberg Gallery, St. Louis, 1987
Acquired from the above by the present owner, 1991
S. Vogt, ed., Alexander Calder: a Survey of Works from the Greenberg Gallery, St. Louis, 1990, p. 14-15 (illustrated in color).
St. Louis, Greenberg Gallery, Alexander Calder, March-April 1989.

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Lot Essay

This work is registered in the archives of the Calder Foundation, New York, under application number A01724.

Suspended gracefully in mid-air, the dark sweeping forms of Alexander Calder's Black: Two Dots and Eleven offers the perfect embodiment of the unique nature of the artist's sculptural practice. Created in 1957, during the heyday of the New York School, Calder's kinetic forms offer a distinctly different approach to abstraction than that adopted by his painterly contemporaries who played out their gestural techniques on a flat surface. Inspired by a visit to Mondrian's studio two decades earlier, Calder's approach meant taking the object off the wall and adding the medium of movement to his creations, resulting in some of the most enthralling works of the post-war period. Created during a pivotal moments in the artist's career when his monumental sculptural forms were in demand across the world, the delicate forms and the perfectly balanced composition displayed in Black: Two Dots and Eleven demonstrates that Calder had lost none of his artistic flair, resulting in one of his most of exquisite works of sculpture.

The constellation of forms that Calder has brought together dance in symphonic fashion. The eleven elegantly curved elements that cascade from down from the heavens evoke the outlines of birds as they are carried on warm thermals at the end of a summer's day. This particular form was a personal favorite of Calder's and reserved for some of his most significant works, including Untitled, his final monumental commission for the atrium of the East Wing of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. In the present lot, these forms are complimented by two black discs (another of the artist's favorite forms) that stand to attention on the contrary side of the composition and together they speak to Calder's great affinity with grace and harmony. Whilst its formal aesthetics are indeed to be celebrated, this work only really comes into its own when disrupted by slightest breath of wind and each of the elements comes alive. It is here that Calder's training as an engineer comes into play as the spatial arrangement of each element and his adept composition of the entire form means that none of the elements come into contact with each other as the move around.

For Calder, inspiration came from many different sources but perhaps what most inspired him were the forms he found in nature. Yet Calder always stressed that his works were not figurative and speaking in 1957, the year before he produced Black: Two Dots and Eleven, he reiterated the abstract nature of his work, "To most people who look at a mobile, it's not more than a series of flat objects that move. To a few, though it may be poetry. I feel there's a greater scope for the imagination to work that can't be pinpointed by any specific emotion. That is the limitation of representational sculpture. You're often enclosed, stopped." (A. Calder, quoted in M. Prather, Alexander Calder: 1898-1976, exh. cat., National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1998, pp. 282-283).

The visual purity of these graceful forms results from Calder's deliberate decision to restrict his palette for this work to just one color, black. One of the key factors that distinguished the artist's work throughout his life was his use of color and by omitting some of his usual eye-catching primary colors, in this work Calder 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 and supports, seeks to enhance the appreciation of grace and beauty. This aesthetic found particular favor with Calder as monochromatic works became a frequent part of his oeuvre during the 1950s.

Executed in 1957, Black: Two Dots and Eleven was produced during a particularly productive period for the artist. The late 1950s saw Calder working on three of his most important monumental commissions--a form that had come to dominate much of his output during the period after the Second World War. The Whirling Ear for American Pavilion at the 1958 Brussels Worlds' Fair, La spirale for the UNESCO headquarters in Paris and .125 for New York's Idlewild airport (now John F. Kennedy International Airport) took up much of the artist's time. All these large-scale pieces were made by commercial fabricators using detailed plans drawn up by Calder himself and producing modestly scaled works such as the present lot may have offered Calder the chance to return to the forms with which he had established his successful career, and also for him to re-connect with the more intimate creative experience that he loved so much.

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