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


Alexander Calder (1898-1976)
numbered 'I, II, III' (on three horizontal elements)
hanging mobile—painted metal and wire
98 3/8 x 137 7/8 in. (249.8 x 350.2 cm.)
Executed in 1954.
Private collection, Europe, commissioned from the artist, 1954
Anon. sale; Christie's, New York, 16 May 2001, lot 11
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner
“Alexander Calder,” Informations et Documents, 1 January 1955, p. 33 (illustrated).
Alexander Calder: The 50s, exh. cat., Beverly Hills, Pace Wildenstein, 1995, p. 12 (illustrated).

Brought to you by

Sara Friedlander
Sara Friedlander

Lot Essay

This work is registered in the archives of the Calder Foundation, New York, under application number A07474.

Alexander Calder’s magnificently proportioned Untitled embodies the unique sculptural form that is the artist’s signature practice. Executed in 1954, the year the artist moved to France, this period marked what Calder described as an agrandissment in his work as his began to populate public spaces across Europe with large-scale monumental sculptures. Yet, despite the increase in scale and the attendant technical demands of his production, the excitement he captured in the forms and movement of his mobiles never left him, and the elegant proportions of the present work exemplifies the sense of grace and dynamism contained in the very best examples of Calder’s iconic works.

The constellation of forms that Calder has brought together in this work dances in symphonic fashion. The thirteen elements that cascade from down from the heavens evokes a flock of birds soaring high on warm thermals at the end of a summer’s day. Here, Calder assembles a variety of shapes—ranging from round discs, triangular plates and punctured amoebic forms—joined together by a series of interconnected wires. In isolation these objects might seem incongruous, yet when brought together under Calder’s unwavering eye, they speak to the artist’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.

Executed in 1954, 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. Following a visit to Mondrian’s studio two decades earlier, where he was impressed by the studio environment, 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 this mobile demonstrates that Calder had lost none of his artistic flair, resulting in one of his most of exquisite works of sculpture.

For Calder, inspiration came from many different sources but perhaps what most inspired him were the dynamics of nature. Yet Calder always stressed that his works were not figurative and speaking in the 1950s, 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 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 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 Untitled 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.

The present mobile was produced during a particularly productive period for the artist. The 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, Spiral 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 more 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.

Calder executed Untitled during his prime. Comfortable and yet still challenged by the mobiles that he invented, he uses form and balance to create a piece whose delicate execution belies its complex and masterful construction. The present work is an elegant example of the artist at the very height of his skills, forming a direct relationship with both the viewer and its environment. Its elements come alive with the merest hint of a breeze and its carefully balanced elements spring into life, introducing the magical element of chance and movement that makes Calder’s sculptures so captivating.

More from Post-War and Contemporary Art Evening Sale

View All
View All