Alexander Calder (1898-1976)
The Miles and Shirley Fiterman Collection
Alexander Calder (1898-1976)

Little Fountain

Alexander Calder (1898-1976)
Little Fountain
signed with the artist's monogram and dated 'CA 66' (on the lower central element)
standing mobile—sheet metal, bolts and paint
65 x 108 x 108 in. (165.1 x 274.3 x 274.3 cm.)
Executed in 1966.
Perls Galleries, New York
John C. Stoller Gallery, Minneapolis
Acquired from the above by the present owner
C. Kienzle, “Point Sticks to Simple Plot,” 18 June 1969, Pittsburgh Press, p. 4 (illustrated).
“Calder Work to be Shown at Art Center,” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 19 July 1969, p. 1 (illustrated).
Washington, D.C., Phillips Collection, Recent Stabiles by Alexander Calder, April-May 1967.
New York, Cultural Showcase Festival, Sculpture in Environment, October 1967, n.p. (illustrated).

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Sara Friedlander
Sara Friedlander

Lot Essay

This work is registered in the archives of the Calder Foundation, New York, under application number A10715.

Alexander Calder’s Little Fountain is a striking example of the kind of monumental sculpture that the artist dedicated the final phase of his long and illustrious career to fabricating. Its hulking black form, supported by four curvaceous limbs results in a dramatic silhouette and demonstrates the artist’s almost unique ability to combine flawless design with faultless technical skill. Here, we see a continuation of the graceful forms that he pioneered with his iconic mobiles, yet with works such as Little Fountain he appears to be pushing his innovative technique to their logical conclusion. Works such as this cemented the artist’s reputation as someone who, in effect, invented his own art form as he liberated sculpture from the traditional confines of the pedestal and presents it a new and invigorated form.

One of the most striking features of Little Fountain is Calder’s decision to execute the work in a single color, black. Well known for his use of color (a quality that was inspired by a visit to Mondrian’s studio in the early 1930s), by deliberately omitting his usual eye-catching primary colors in this work, he 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 body, has the effect of enhancing the work’s grace and beauty.

Alexander Calder’s monumental works are the culmination of a lifelong dedication to constantly redefining of the physical and aesthetic nature of sculpture. Having spent his career introducing notions of color and movement into the previously static and monochromatic medium, during the last twenty years of his life the artist found new inspiration by devoting his greatest efforts to this exciting new phase of his career. Calder had become increasingly attracted to larger scale works, not only because they offered him the opportunity to introduce his ideas about sculpture to larger public audience but also because they allowed him to work on a different set of processes and challenges, “There has been an agrandissement in my work,” Calder said in 1960. “It’s true that I’ve more or less retired from the smaller mobiles. I regard them as just fiddling. The engineering on the big objects is important…..” (A. Calder quoted in M. Prather, Alexander Calder 1898-1976, exh. cat., Washington, D.C., 1998, p. 279).

In 1966, the year in which he fabricated Little Fountain, was an important one for the artist as his outdoor sculpture began to receive both the critical and public attention that was so forthcoming for his mobiles. In May of that year, Calder dedicated a work which he had donated to the United States Mission to the United Nations in New York. Originally called Object in Five Planes, upon its placement at the UN he optimistically renamed it Peace. Also in May he attended the dedication of a monumental work in the McDermott Court at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and a month later was awarded an honorary Doctor of Arts degree from Harvard University.

Outdoor sculpture has always been an important part of Calder’s oeuvre and he made his first outdoor works in his studio in Roxbury, Connecticut, using the same techniques and materials as his smaller works. Exhibited outside, Calder’s initial standing mobiles moved elegantly in the breeze, bobbing and swirling in natural, spontaneous rhythms. The first few outdoor works in fact were too delicate for strong winds, and Calder was forced to rethink his fabrication process. The larger works were made under his direction, using the classic enlargement techniques used in different ways by traditional sculptors, including his father and grandfather. Calder began to draw his designs on brown craft paper, which he enlarged using a grid. His large-scale works could be created according to his exact specifications while simultaneously allowing him the liberty to adjust or correct a shape or line if necessary.

The evocative curves and flowing forms that comprise Little Fountain graceful form are a fitting tribute to Alexander Calder’s skill as both an artist and an engineer. The ingenious nature of its conception and fabrication results in an ever dramatic work which perfectly encapsulates the beautiful simplicity of Calder’s art, succinctly summed up by a comment he made to an interviewer shortly before his death, “I want to make things that are fun to look at” (A. Calder as quoted in M. Prather, Alexander Calder 1898-1976, exh. cat., Washington, D.C., 1998, p. 279).

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