Alexander Calder (1898-1976)
Property from a Prominent West Coast Collection
Alexander Calder (1898-1976)

Red, Blue and White

Alexander Calder (1898-1976)
Red, Blue and White
signed with artist’s monogram and dated 'CA 73' (on the second largest white element)
hanging mobile—sheet metal, rod, wire and paint
52 ½ x 94 ½ x 22 in. (133.3 x 240 x 55.8 cm.)
Executed in 1973.
M. Knoedler & Co. Inc., New York
Private collection, Miami, 1978
Private collection, Miami, 1994
Anon. sale; Sotheby’s, London, 2 July 1998, lot 142
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner
New York, M. Knoedler & Co. Inc., Alexander Calder: Sculpture of the 1970s, October-November 1978, pp. 16-17 (illustrated in color).
Further details
This work is registered in the archives of the Calder Foundation, New York, under application number A02161.

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Ana Maria Celis
Ana Maria Celis

Lot Essay

Alexander Calder’s Red, Blue and White is one of the artist’s most striking arrangements of colorful forms; forms which—when suspended in space—jostle for attention as they constantly move in an ever-changing arrangement of vibrant, floating shapes. In contrast to his large-scale outdoor ‘stabiles,’ this kinetic sculpture underscores the link between Calder’s work and their immediate environment. Suspended from a series of metal ‘arms,’ each individual element is in turn suspended by more delicate metal wire allowing each to move independently from its neighbor. Executed in 1973, towards the end of Calder’s long and distinguished career, the sculpture is the result of almost half a century of innovation as the artist sought to reinvent the sculptural form to include color and movement.

Spanning nearly 100 inches across at its widest point, this large-scale mobile sculpture governs any space it occupies. Grouped into three bands of color, an ensemble of individual elements are arranged into an elegant, dynamic composition. Beginning at the top, and supported by a gentle arc of metal wire, a large blue five-sided element crowns the composition. Next, as they eye descends through the composition, a pair of red angular and circular forms anchor the middle of the composition, before arriving at row of ten asymmetrical elements that act as the foundation of the entire composition. Each element is carefully considered, both for its aesthetic role in the composition, but also from an ‘engineering’ standpoint to ensure that the entire composition hangs, balanced and effortless, as an organic whole.

Red, Blue and White is a superb example of the all- encompassing universality of Calder’s art. His unique ability was to produce works of exquisitely balanced composition which retain their harmony when moved by the merest breath of wind. The blue, red, and white elements of the present lot are all anchored by a series of exceptional mechanisms that allow them move independently of each other yet retaining a unity that ensures that none of the elements dominate or bump into each other. This interest in movement can be traced back to Calder’s childhood and his lively imagination. Among his first sculptures, made at age eleven, was a duck in brass sheet that rocked back and forth when tapped. He later professed that the grandeur and immensity of nature’s dynamics moved him. “The first impression I had was the cosmos, the planetary system. My mother used to say to me, ‘But you don’t know anything about the stars.’ I’d say, ‘No, I don’t, but you can have an idea what they’re like without knowing all about them and shaking hands with them.’” (A. Calder quoted in J. Lipman, Calder’s Universe, London, 1977, p. 17).

The interplay of form and color on display here recalls the palette of Piet Mondrian, whose studio Calder had visited in 1930. Calder’s visit came at a formative moment, for having moved 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 Hans Arp, Fernand Léger, and Marcel Duchamp (who in 1931 coined the term ‘mobiles’ to describe his moving sculpture), Calder realized an unprecedented aesthetic that coincided with many of the tenets of Surrealism and Constructivism. Rejecting some of the ideas that underlined the tenets of Abstract Expressionism during the early part of his career, Calder found his own path—and his gestural sculpture in turn served as a prelude to the work of the Abstract Expressionists. “They call me a ‘playboy,’ you know,” he himself explained in interview in 1956, “I want to make things that are fun to look at, that have no propaganda value whatsoever” (A. Calder, quoted in J. Lipman, Calder’s Universe, London, 1977, p. 45). Despite this, looking at the concentration of Red, Blue, and White as they flow through the air, one cannot help be reminded of those looping movements of tracery performed by Jackson Pollock. But where Pollock claimed that he was Nature, Calder has taken a step away and instead produced a microcosm of it. The forms in the present work float by in a slow, graceful dance that echoes the movements of the heavens, bringing them to life within the context of the ceiling above us, underneath the wider canopy of the cosmos. This is a relationship that Calder himself emphasized “Since the beginning of my work in abstract art, and even though it was not obvious at that time, I felt that there was no better model for me to work from than the Universe... Spheres of different sizes, densities, colors and volumes, floating in space, surrounded by vivid clouds and tides, currents of air, viscosities and fragrances—in their utmost variety and disparity” (A. Calder, quoted in C. Giménez & A.S.C. Rower (ed.), Calder: Gravity and Grace, London, 2004, p. 52).

As Calder entered his 70s, he was still as busy and in demand as ever. Produced while he was working on major commissions like the monumental Untitled for the new East Wing of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., Red, Blue and White demonstrates that his ideas and forms were still as relevant and innovative as they were in the early days of his career. It is also an example of a mobile that was produced during the latter part of Calder’s career. From the mid-1950s onwards Calder became increasingly concerned with making large-scale outdoor sculptures, making over three hundred monumental works that were placed in city plazas, corporate lobbies, airports and museums during the post-war building boom. That Calder continued to make mobiles of all sizes throughout this period of his career is testament to the importance in which he held these forms. As such, the present work represents the pinnacle of Calder’s approach to the prevailing march towards abstraction. Calder wanted to redefine the nature of art, and of sculpture by taking it off the wall and the pedestal and breathing movement into its static form. The resulting mobiles were his revolutionary response to these ideas of movement and color and were the superb result of Calder’s unfettered imagination and his unmatched technical skill that enabled him to produce works that spring into life with the slightest breath of wind.

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