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Alexander Calder (1898-1976)
Please note for tax purposes, including potential … Read more The Defining Gesture: Modern Masters from the Eppler Family Collection
Alexander Calder (1898-1976)

Two-Toned Moon

Alexander Calder (1898-1976)
Two-Toned Moon
signed with artist's monogram twice and dated twice 'CA 75' (on the red element and the black base)
standing mobile—sheet metal, wire and paint
33 x 43 x 33 in. (83.8 x 109.2 x 83.8 cm.)
Executed in 1975.
Estate of the artist
M. Knoedler & Co., Inc., New York
Irving Galleries, Palm Beach
Private collection, Palm Beach, 1980
Anon. sale; Sotheby's, New York, 31 October 1984, lot 1
Private collection, San Francisco
Acquired from the above by the present owner, 1985
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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 A04801.

“[Calder] has always avoided modeling in favor of direct handling—cutting, shaping with a hammer, or assembling piece by piece. Such an approach has fostered a simplicity of form and clarity of contour in his work. It allies him with Brancusi, Arp, Moore and Giacometti in their repudiation of virtuosity.”
James Johnson Sweeney

An exquisite example of Alexander Calder’s mature work, Two Toned Moon brings his signature forms into a more personal realm. Created a year prior to the artist’s death, this standing mobile exhibits many of the characteristics that have become iconic of the late artist’s oeuvre. In contrast to his massive outdoor stabiles, this kinetic sculpture underscores the link between Calder’s work and the surrounding world. Set into motion by the slightest touch, or a faint breeze, Two Toned Moon is indicative of the sculptor’s lifelong interest in finding the latent movements in static materials. By imbuing simple shapes with a sense of movement and life, Calder is able to elevate the ordinary to a space of wonder and reflection.

Six colored circles and a crescent hover above a black base, a network of wire connecting each sheet metal element. Three points anchor the mobile to the ground while a lofty pinnacle stretches upward, its tip crowned by a gentle arch from which the circular forms extend. Flitting between two and three dimensions, this tightly realized composition is telling of Calder’s attention to the changing perspective of the viewer. As the work twists and rotates, one’s perspective follows suit. Anchored by two large red discs that circumnavigate their anchor, the upper appendages give way to small white, blue, and yellow circles. Hovering far above on a gentle loop of wire, an unmistakable crescent floats like a storybook illustration cut from paper or tin. This stylized representation plants stirs up allusions to the night sky and humanity’s tumble through the stars.

Balanced on a delicate metal armature, the flat areas of color conjure the dynamism of the solar system. As the shapes rotate about their angular base, one can imagine a multi-dimensional alignment taking place within the airless vacuum of space, or in the soft light of a windowed room. It is precisely this ability to transcend space and time through bits of sheet metal and wire that make Calder’s constructions so attractive. Like the steeple of a cathedral at night, the uppermost point of the base serves as a launching point for the viewer’s eye as it travels into the night sky. The sickle of a moon takes in the astronomical scene from the far reaches, all the while completing the sculptural composition by balancing the heavy base with its graceful sliver.

The interplay of white, black, and primary colors recalls the palette of Piet Mondrian, whose studio Calder had visited in 1930. Thinking about his experience there, the artist remarked, “I was very much moved by Mondrian’s studio, large, beautiful and irregular in shape as it was… I thought at the time how fine it would be if everything there moved…” (A. Calder, quoted by H. Greenfeld, The Essential Alexander Calder, New York, 2003, p. 57). Calder’s visit to the artist’s studio came at a formative moment. Having expatriated to Paris in the 1920s after studying at the Art Students League in New York, the young artist was introduced to many visionaries of the European avant-garde. Mingling with the likes of Paul Klee, Fernand Léger, and Marcel Duchamp (who later coined the term “mobiles” to describe his moving sculptures), Calder made works that pushed beyond the tenets of Surrealism and Constructivism, as well as an increased interest in abstraction.

Calder’s mature style, so readily observable in Two Toned Moon, was the result of years of innovation. Beginning as a draftsman, he was initially intrigued by the qualities of line. While in France, this two-dimensional affinity expanded into three with Calder’s adoption of malleable wire into his practice. By bending these thin lengths of metal, he was ostensibly able to draw in space, thus transferring the line from the page or canvas into the realm of sculpture. By adding shapes cut from industrial sheet metal and painted in polychromatic hues, Calder’s mobiles and stabiles gradually evolved into the delicately balanced assemblages so lauded today.

Jean-Paul Sartre was enthusiastic about Calder’s mobiles and found within them a perplexing dichotomy. To him, they were both frozen objects and living organisms that drew power from their surroundings. Looking past the surface value of each work’s entertaining animation, he noted: “These movements that intend only to please, to enchant our eyes, have nonetheless a profound and, as it were, metaphysical meaning. This is because the mobiles have to have some source of mobility. In the past, Calder drove them with an electric motor. Now he abandons them in the wild: in a garden, by an open window he lets them vibrate in the wind like Aeolian harps. They feed on the air, breathe it and take their life from the indistinct life of the atmosphere” (J. Sartre, “Les Mobiles des Calder,” in Alexander Calder: Mobiles, Stabiles, Constellations, exh. cat., Galerie Louis Carre, Paris, 1946, pp. 6-19, English translation by Chris Turner). Two Toned Moon is a brilliant illustration of this juxtaposition. At one moment it is a drawing existing without a surface, and in the next a gentle wind starts the cosmos swirling about a great black spire.

By introducing the element of chance, so loved by his Surrealist contemporaries, Calder was able to push Modernist sculpture ahead into exciting new territories. One of the first American artists to have success in Europe, his work hinged on the marriage of abstract forms, bold compositions, and the cerebral qualities touted by the continental avant-garde. Refined through a lifetime of innovation, works like Two Toned Moon are a testament to Calder’s talent and to his ability to highlight the fundamental qualities of line and shape while exploring the ever-changing space of our day-to-day world.

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