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

Tic Tac Toe

Alexander Calder (1898-1976)
Tic Tac Toe
signed with initials 'CA' (on the largest black element)
standing mobile--painted sheet metal, rod and wire
42 x 32 x 20 in. (106.6 x 81.2 x 50.8 cm.)
Executed in 1941.
Estate of the Artist
Knoedler & Co., Inc., New York
Anon. sale; Sotheby's, London, 25 March 1986, lot 49
Phyllis Teplitz, North Woodmere
Mr. and Mrs. Martin Gutner
Vivian Horan Fine Art, New York
Barbara Mathes Gallery, New York
M. Rosenthal, "The Surreal Calder," exh. cat., Houston, Menil Collection, 2005, p. 107 (illustrated).
"Calder 1941," exh. cat., New York, Pace Gallery, 2011, p. 6 (illustrated).
New York, Knoedler & Company, Calder/Léger, October 1979, no. 18.
New York, Barbara Mathes Gallery, Calder: Drawings, Mobiles and Stabiles, September-October 1988.
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Lot Essay

This work is registered in the archives of the Calder Foundation, New York, under application number A08746.

Alexander Calder's Tic Tac Toe is an early example of the ingenious mobile sculptures with which the artist made his name. Executed in 1941, this particular work is distinguished by the constellation of 10 black disks that gracefully orbit a central axis. Balanced on three legs that rise up to a single point, this complex arrangement of skillfully counterbalanced forms demonstrates Calder's ability not only to master the formal aspects of his chosen art form but also to successfully incorporate a second, previously unknown quality, that of sculpture's kinetic relationship with its surroundings. Tic Tac Toe's vertical and horizontal elements create a checkerboard pattern that is populated by a series of black disks. By placing larger, heavier disks on the bottom and progressing up to smaller, lighter disks on the upper reaches of the work, Calder not only produces work that is visually pleasing but also engineers a perfect balance of form and function.

This work is an early example of Calder's exploration into producing a work with perfect balance, while at the same time achieving the degree of aesthetic integrity that he demanded. In Tic Tac Toe, he achieves this by incorporating additional pieces of metal to the reverse of the disks to add weight, rather than adding more disks which would have disrupted the purity of the composition. This results in a pleasing visual equilibrium between the formal and physical weight of the large disk on one side of the spindle, which is perfectly counterbalanced by the nine disks of varying sizes on the other. Arriving at the sense of perfection took time as well as considerable technical skill, as the artist assembled various configurations of the various shapes and weights before deciding which one offered him the perfect sense of both formal and physical balance that he desired.

Whilst Calder put his training as an engineer to good use in finding this perfect sense of balance, he was careful to leave one aspect to chance-that of movement. As an artist he had long been fascinated by the idea of introducing this into the medium of sculpture ever since his influential visit to Mondrian's studio in 1930. With his Mobiles and Standing Mobiles he was careful to create works that offered the possibility of kinetic energy without being prescriptive about how it should move. As the philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre noted in his essay for the catalogue of Calder's 1945 exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, "Calder establishes a general destiny of motionthen leaves it's on its own. It is the time of day, the sun, the heat, the wind which calls each individual dance. Thus the objects always inhabit a half-way station between the servility of a statue and the independence of nature" (J. Sartre, "Existentialist on Mobilist," ARTnews, December 1947, pp. 22-23).

The black disks and lines recall the visual language of another modern master, Joan Miró. Calder and Miró were friends for much of their lives: they met in Paris in the 1920s and developed as artists alongside each other as well as peers. Both were interested in bringing elements of play and whimsicality into their art, and both sought to depict elements from nature into their work through the use of abstract forms. Both artist's works contain floating biomorphic forms that are connected by delicate black lines; in the case of Miró's work, the forms float on an atmospheric background, in Calder's, the forms literally float in the air.

In Tic Tac Toe, the arrangement of the vertical and horizontal elements also recalls the constellation of the Southern Cross, the smallest of the 88 constellations and visible only in the skies of the southern hemisphere. Calder had a strong interest in astronomy and his early works have shown evidence of this. From his Universe sculptures of the early 1930s, to his Constellations of the 1940s, the sense of wonder that Calder found in the mysteries of the stars, planets and the cosmos became an important theme in much of his early work. "The first impression I ever had was the cosmos, the planetary system," Calder once recalled, "My mother used to say to me, 'But you don't know anything about the stars.' I'd say, 'No, I don't, but you can have an idea what they're like without knowing all about them and shaking hands with them'" (A. Calder, quoted in J. Lipman, Calder's Universe, London, 1977, p. 17).
Tic Tac Toe demonstrates the all-encompassing universality of Calder's art. He possessed an unrivalled ability to produce works of exquisitely balanced composition which retain their formal harmony when interacting with their environment. The striking simplicity of the black disks coupled with this particular work's exceptional sense of poise and balance, allows it to retain a pleasing sense of unity, as the disks dance delicately in mid-air.

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