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

Untitled 

Details
Alexander Calder (1898-1976)
Untitled 
hanging mobile—sheet metal, wire and paint
44 x 82 x 20 1/2 in. (111.7 x 208.2 x 52 cm.)
Executed in 1954.
Provenance
Assem A. Salam, Lebanon, acquired directly from the artist, 1954
Private collection, New York
Anon. sale; Christie's, New York, 13 November 2001, lot 47
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner
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Lot Essay

This work is registered in the archives of the Calder Foundation, New York, under application number A07475.

Alexander Calder’s Untitled, a hanging mobile dating from 1954, is the work of an artist at the peak of his career and an exquisite example of the celebrated mobiles to which he dedicated a large portion of his practice. It is a delicate yet powerful piece of sculpture that dances in the air, its arms reaching into space in a graceful gesture, and a quintessential example of Calder’s unique style of visual poetry. In discussing the concepts that inspired his work, he famously noted early in his career that “nothing at all of this is fixed. Each element able to move, to stir, to oscillate, to come and go in its relationships with the other elements in its universe” (A. Calder, “Comment réaliser l’art?” Abstraction-Création, Art Non Figuratif”, no. 1 (1932), p. 6. Translation courtesy Calder Foundation, New York). Untitled is a true testament to the ephemerality and timelessness of Calder’s work, and to his towering role as one of the most significant artists of the 20th century.

The rhythmic composition showcases Calder’s ability to expertly craft visual harmony through masterful use of color, shape, and three-dimensional space. This exceptional example is a delicate balancing act of pointed triangles and smooth organically delineated discs. On the lower left portion of the mobile, the five carefully placed red forms hang together in complementary fashion, their slight modulations in size and angles playing off each other through space. Branching up, as our eye follows them on their trajectory, we find a yellow disc at a perpendicular angle, as if it’s facing the ceiling, followed by a similarly positioned black triangle. The angles and directions of each of these shapes serve as a counterpoint to the fluidity and motion of each section’s progress across space. Meanwhile, two bold circles spring up from the lower portion, one blue and one black piece each. Like two arms reaching for the sky, the upward angle of the blue and black circles extends in the opposite direction of the more horizontally inclined lower section. The scale of the work, at over six feet, feels majestic while echoing human proportions, making it easy to relate to its overall flow and structure. As a whole, Untitled is characteristic of Calder’s most expertly balanced mobiles. At once light, airy, and complex, its parts dance together with a unified grace.

In 1953, Calder was commissioned by the owner of Middle East Airlines to create a group of sculptures for the company’s new headquarters building that were under construction in Beirut, Lebanon. Untitled was part of this group and was originally destined to hang in the airline’s ticket office. Assem A. Salam, the man who invited Calder to Lebanon recalled the process by which the artist began his work: “In a bare, unfinished room, which was turned into a makeshift studio in a building under construction, equipped with basic tools, stands and benches, Calder managed to create the bustling scene similar to the atmosphere and clutter of his studio in Roxbury. With the exception of his own favorite pair of special pliers brought with him, all of his tools (chisels, files, wrenches, etc.) were borrowed from or improvised for him by the craftsmen and builders on site His materials were the same simple ones he had always used: steel wires, steel bars and aluminum sheets. He worked on the bench with a medium sized vice mounted on it. At the bench, Calder moved with quick almost jerky but sure motions, but seemed never to make the wrong move, thinking out his designs beforehand without sketches and working fast to create them. While building this mobile Calder became the center of attraction and was accepted as a craftsman and friendly colleague by all metal workers, carpenters, plumbers and other fellow craftsmen working on the building site, who all found his work fascinating and quite mystifying” (A. A. Salam, Speaking to Christie’s, London, June 2001).

By the mid-1950s Calder was dividing his time between larger monumental sculptures, mobiles, and gouaches; his work universally admired and in demand. He had reached an exceptionally fruitful phase in his career, where new opportunities and international travel abounded, while his productivity and persistent imagination drove him to keep creating new and innovative works. Beginning with the great successes of the 1940s, which included a mid-career retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, and a major European breakthrough with a solo exhibition at Galerie Carré in Paris, Calder was continually growing in reputation and acclaim. In 1952, he was selected to represent the United States at the Venice Biennale, where he was awarded the Grand Prize for sculpture. In 1954, when Untitled was created, Calder and his family spent time in the United States, and Europe, in addition to the Middle East, with the artist setting up work space wherever he went. There was a universality to Calder’s work, where his mobiles, sculptures and paintings received admiration from people across the globe. His greatest visual affinity was with European artists, like Mondrian or Arp, who possessed similar sensibilities to color, form, and visual purity. Yet at the same time, Calder was a truly American artist, a precursor to the Abstract Expressionists, who were growing in prominence in New York at that time. This distinctly trans-Atlantic aesthetic contributed to Calder’s truly original visual language, where he occupied an unparalleled position in the history of 20th century art.

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