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

Blue Flower, Perforated Red

Alexander Calder (1898-1976)
Blue Flower, Perforated Red
signed with initials and dated 'CA 60' (on the largest element)
hanging mobile--painted sheet metal and wire
65 x 50 x 48 in. (165.1 x 127 x 121.9 cm.)
Executed in 1960.
Perls Galleries, New York
Estate of Frances Leventritt, New York, 1961
Her sale; Christie's, New York, 9 November 2005, lot 288
Galería Elvira González, Madrid
Acquired from the above by the present owner

Further details
This work is registered in the archives of the Calder Foundation, New York, under application number A07553.

Biomorphic forms and planar elements emerge like tiny seedlings from Alexander Calder’s Blue Flower, Perforated Red, comprising a dynamic structure that evokes all of the energy, optimism, growth and promise of a budding flower. As the sculpture curves and wends through space, it creates lively pockets of positive and negative space that constantly change shape as the mobile moves. Pieces drift up and down as well as around to form infinitely varied patterns, and no two elements are the same. Our eyes dance to the rhythm of the red, blue, black and yellow, from shape to shape, and from solid forms to punctured ones, enticed by Calder’s immaculately balanced visual and kinetic feast of color and form.

Often described as drawings in space due to their fluidity and loose, gestural confidence that is similar to a line drawn on paper, Calder’s mobiles are celebrated for their departure from previously accepted forms of sculpture. Before the creation of Calder’s first mobile around 1930, sculptures were conventionally built according to the precepts of mass, volume and a base, but Calder introduced a sense of openness and transparence with his mobiles, and effectively liberated sculpture from the fixed pedestal. As seen in Blue Flower, Perforated Red, Calder’s mobiles extend outward into space, radiating endlessly morphing patterns and producing a sensation of animated movement. Despite the economic recessions, social revolutions, global conflicts and traumatic wars that presided over the early 20th century when Calder began his career as an artist, he maintained a positive attitude which can be traced back to the artist’s youth in Paris and the United States in the 1920s and 1930s, when he associated with a diverse circle of European and American avant-garde artists including Marcel Duchamp, Jean Arp, Man Ray, Joan Miró, Martha Graham, Piet Mondrian and more. Working as an illustrator and toy designer and also fashioning circus figures out of wire in his spare time, Calder developed a unique style that joined the erudite strains of modernism with popular culture. His predilections for ebullient content, innovative form and metal and wire as witnessed in these early years became some of the defining characteristics of his oeuvre, and ultimately culminated in such mature mobiles as Blue Flower, Perforated Red.

Another emblematic trait of Calder’s sculptures is movement, which was influenced by both the artist’s background in physics and his penchant for poetry. Having studied mechanical engineering, Calder was intrigued by the innate order of the world and the unseen forces at work keeping things moving forward. This interest in science and mathematics might seem opposed at first to the more romantic associations of poetry, but, in fact, the two interests were intricately linked for Calder.“He grasped the inextricable relationship between immediate appearances and the hidden forces that shape our world. The lyricism of the works…has everything to do with Calder’s genius for turning to art’s advantage an investigation of the nature of the world generally believed to be the purview of physics, a way of seeing inaugurated not by artists but by the primary texts of Euclid and Isaac Newton. Calder, although not a scientist in any traditional sense, was moved by a desire, common among early 20th century thinkers, to see the poetry of everyday life as shaped by heretofore invisible principles and laws. We sometimes forget that the intimate relationship between science and alchemy and magic of all kinds, taken for granted in early modern times, was still very much a factor around the turn of the century” (J. Perl, “Sensibility and Science,” in Calder and Abstraction: From Avant-Garde to Iconic, exh. cat., Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 2013, p. 41).

While lighthearted and joyful, Calder’s mobiles are also rigorous and classical investigations into pure form, pure color and pure composition. Featuring black, white and primary colors in tandem with abstracted shapes, Calder’s sculptures pare away any extraneous detail to simply focus on form and its realization in space. Meticulously designed and crafted, each piece of the mobile must be placed precisely so as to keep the whole of the structure in balance. Grappling with these formal problems of the third dimension in art was not unusual to Calder, however. As an artist, he was continuing the tradition of his father and grandfather, both of whom had been celebrated American sculptors. Fountains and figures throughout the urban fabric of Philadelphia in particular form enduring tributes to their legacy as sculptors. Calder took up their mantle, yet did so in a hugely idiosyncratic way that embraced modernity, be it in his embrace of abstraction, his embrace of movement or his embrace of the found and industrial materials from which he created his graceful mobiles.

Indeed, Calder’s adoption of industrial metal in his sculptures and mobiles is particularly notable among his many artistic achievements. Rarely used in fine art before Calder and another American sculptor David Smith started working with it, metal built the skyscrapers, automobiles, monuments, ships and airplanes of the new, modernized world of the early 20th century, and it changed the face of cities across the world. Cut, bent and folded, the metal and wire in Calder’s sculptures represented not only a technical innovation in art, but also an ideologically charged material. In Blue Flower, Perforated Red, Calder has taken this symbol of industry and power and, through the deft skill of his hands and pliers, coaxed the magic and beauty of nature from its brute form.

The French existentialist philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre, in his famous essay on Calder’s work in the 1940s, succinctly summed up the grace, poetry and sheer joy of Calder’s work, “A Mobile: a little local fiesta; an object defined by its movement and non-existent without it; a flower that withers as soon as it comes to a standstill; a pure stream of movement in the same way as there are pure streams of light. ...They simple are: they are absolutes. ...The forces at work are too numerous and complicated for any human mind, even that of their creator, to be able to foresee all of their combinations. For each of them Calder establishes a general fated course of movement, then abandons them to it: time, sun, heat and wind will determine each particular dance. Thus the object is always midway between the servility of the statue and the independence of natural events. Each of its twists and turns is an inspiration of the moment” (J. Sartre, “Les Mobiles des Calder,” in Alexander Calder: Mobiles, Stabiles, Constellations, exh. cat., Galerie Louis Carré, Paris, 1946). This sentiment was echoed years later by the artist himself who summed up the essence of his work. “When everything goes right,” he once said “a mobile is a piece of poetry that dances with the joy of life” (A. Calder, Calder, London, 2004, p. 261).

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