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


Alexander Calder (1898-1976)
standing mobile--painted sheet metal, brass, stone and wire
14 x 9½ x 5 in. (35.5 x 24.1 x 12.7 cm.)
Executed circa 1945.
Herbert Berkeley, Weston
Knoedler & Co., Inc., New York
Acquired from the above by the present owner, 1983
New York, M. Knoedler & Co., Inc., Alexander Calder: Small Scale Works and Gouaches, May-June 1982, p. 4, no. 7 (illustrated).
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Lot Essay

This work is registered in the archives of the Calder Foundation, New York, under application number A08954.

Distinguished by its exquisite composition and construction, this remarkable early sculpture by Alexander Calder clearly demonstrates his flirtations with one of the most important and influential art movements of the twentieth century--that of Surrealism. Drawn to imagery that often evoked movement or objects in a state of flux, the Surrealists offered a wide range of metaphorical objects in which abstract images are imbued with suggestiveness. In Untitled, the carefully balanced congregation of forms that Calder places on top of three thin legs evokes a mysterious figure, with the contrasting corporeal and more ethereal elements constructed in such a way as to become fully animated, a figure that moves and responds in accordance with its environment.

Skillfully balanced on top of a central stone element, Calder places a horizontal arm that, on one side, supports a constellation of small metal disks placed at the end of a series of cascading arms, while on the other side is a winding trail of wire that concludes in a tight coil that acts as a counter balance to its opposing foil. This sense of contrast--between the solidity of the stone and delicacy of the wire and the angular regularity of one half of the composition against the elegant meanders of the other--adroitly reflects the Surrealists' concerns of juxtapositions and flux.

Executed circa 1945, Untitled was created after Calder returned to America after spending much time traveling to and from Europe, where his work was admired by many of the leading artists and thinkers of the period. His Cirque Calder was viewed by such luminaries as Jean Cocteau, Le Corbusier, Theo van Doesburg, Ferdinand Legér, Piet Mondrian, Jean Arp and Marcel Duchamp. Counting such people among his friends and admirers, Calder must have been very familiar with the ideas surrounding the Surrealist movement at a very early stage in his artistic career.

Arguably Calder's greatest friend and confidant during his time in Paris was Joan Miró.The pair would remain friends for much of their lives. Both were interested in bringing elements of play and whimsicality into their art and both sought to depict elements from nature through the use of abstract forms. There are clear parallels between the work of the two artists, as both Calder and Miró incorporate floating biomorphic forms that are connected by delicate black lines in their work. In the case of Miró, the forms float against atmospheric backgrounds, while in the case of Calder, the forms literally float in the air. In the case of Untitled, the enigmatic forms evoke Miro's highly regarded series of Constellations, visibly demonstrating the innovative nature of Calder's artistic practice during this period in his career.

Although Calder clearly had both strong aesthetic and personal connections to members of the Surrealist movement, perhaps all too aware of the artistic constraints of belonging to a highly definable group, he never aligned himself fully with André Breton and his followers. This deliberate move allowed him the freedom to chart his own course and to produce pieces that not only matched theirs but, as in the case of this particular work, often foreshadowed their revolutionary efforts. Untitled provides evidence not only of this exciting period in the history of art, but also of the independent spirit that would characterize Calder's oeuvre for the next four decades. As the curator Mark Rosenthal identifies, for someone not at the heart of Surrealism, he was clearly an influential part of it. "Separate from the political dramas that permeated the activities of the group, Surrealism offered a fresh group of options for the artists-themes, techniques, outlooks and points of departure for art practice. ...Calder and the others were effectively engaged in a kind of dialogueAt times Calder was in the forefront, and at others, he was contributing to what was already ongoing" (M. Rosenthal, "The Surreal Calder: A Natural," The Surreal Calder, exh. cat., Menil Collection, Houston, 2005, p. 18).

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