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

Black I I

Alexander Calder (1898-1976)
Black I I
signed with initials 'CA' (on the red base)
standing mobile--painted sheet metal and wire
40 x 33 x 18 in. (101.6 x 83.8 x 45.7 cm.)
Executed in 1949.
Perls Galleries, New York
Acquired from the above by the present owner, 1968
New York, Buchholz Gallery/Curt Valentin, Calder, November-December 1949, no. 10.
Further details
This work is registered in the archives of the Calder Foundation, New York, under application number A01799.

Elegantly standing as though poised on tiptoe, Alexander Calder’s Black I I is an exquisite example of the artist’s innovative combination of sculptural dynamism and grace. Comprised of dynamic upward arcs of red metal planes that pierce through a sunny yellow disk before culminating in a carefully balanced arm supporting a floating arrangement of multicolored discs, Black I I incorporates many of the iconic motifs that Calder used throughout his career. With this particular form, Calder successfully incorporates both the graceful movement that he pioneered in his groundbreaking mobiles together with the more substantial nature of his mature postwar work.

Black I I is among the most illustrious of Calder’s tabletop sculptures. Standing over three feet tall, the composition is anchored by an elegant curving arc of red metal that cuts dramatically through the space surrounding the work. Setting the elegant tone for the rest of the composition, this element is both functional—in that it provides the support for the carefully balanced arm—and beautiful, as its graceful silhouette, together with the cleverly positioned cutouts, prevents the whole object from becoming unwieldy, instead defining the light and graceful nature of the work as a whole. Movement is the key to much of Calder’s work, and in this work it manifests itself in the full sweeping scope of the elongated arm. For not only does it allow for full 360° of horizontal movement, its pivoting position at the very apex of the sculpture also allows for a wide range of vertical movement too.

The visual purity of these graceful forms results from Calder’s deliberate decision to restrict his chromatic palette, a strategy also favored by Calder’s friend Joan Miró. One of the key factors that distinguished the artist’s work throughout his life was his use of color and by only including a select array of strong colors, Calder focuses attention on the purity of the form itself. This enhances the work’s already dramatic silhouette and coupled with the other, almost minimal aspects of the piece, such as the elegant narrow body and supports, seeks to enhance the appreciation of grace and beauty.

Black I I was produced during a particularly prolific period for the artist which saw him begin working on some of his most important monumental commissions. 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 reconnect with the more intimate creative experience that he loved so much.

For Alexander Calder, inspiration came from many different sources but perhaps what most inspired him were the forms he found in nature. Yet he always stressed that his works were not figurative. Speaking in 1957, he reiterated the abstract nature of his work: “I feel there’s a greater scope for the imagination in work that can’t be pinpointed to any specific emotion. That is the limitation of representational sculpture. You’re often enclosed by the emotion, 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 poetic nature of Black I I evokes Jean-Paul Sartre’s famous observations on first experiencing Calder’s work in the 1940s. “If it is true that the sculptor is supposed to infuse static matter with movement, then it would be a mistake to associate Calder’s art with the sculptor’s,” Sartre declared. “Calder does not suggest movement, he captures it. It is not his aim to entomb it forever in bronze or gold, those glorious, stupid materials doomed by their nature to immobility. ...[W]ith little bones or tin or zinc, he makes strange arrangements of stalks and palm leaves, of discs, feathers and petals. They are resonators, traps; they dangle on the end of a string like a spider at the end of its thread, or are piled on a base, lifeless and self-contained in their false sleep. Some errant tremor passes and, caught in their toils, breathes life into them. They channel it and give it a fleeting form—a Mobile is born” (J. Sartre, “Les Mobiles des Calder,” in Alexander Calder: Mobiles, Stabiles, Constellations, exh. cat., Galerie Louis Carré, Paris, 1946).

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Kevie Yang
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