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Alexander Calder (1898-1976)
Alexander Calder (1898-1976)
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Property from a Distinguished Swiss Collection
Alexander Calder (1898-1976)

Horizontal

Details
Alexander Calder (1898-1976)
Horizontal
incised with the artist’s monogram and dated ‘CA 56’ (on the largest element)
hanging mobile—sheet metal, wire and paint
40 x 122 x 18 in. (101.6 x 309.8 x 45.7 cm.)
Executed in 1956.
Provenance
Galerie Maeght, Paris
Private collection, Bremen, 1960
Private collection, Europe
Anon. sale; Galerie Kornfeld, 8 June 1977, lot 74
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner
Exhibited
Amsterdam, Stedelijk Museum, Alexander Calder, Stabilen, Mobilen, May-June 1959, p. 21, no. 29.
Post lot text
This work is registered in the archives of the Calder Foundation, New York, under application number A14739.

Brought to you by

Ana Maria Celis
Ana Maria Celis

Lot Essay

A visit to Piet Mondrian’s studio in 1930 began Alexander Calder’s fascination with the ideas surrounding abstraction and how that could be applied to the medium of sculpture. There he was impressed not by the Dutch artist’s paintings but rather by the environmental installation, and even before this visit, he had embarked on redefining the nature of art—and of sculpture in particular—by taking it off the pedestal and breathing movement into its static form. In 1931, he originated his mobiles, a revolutionary response to these ideas, and even decades after that Paris visit, Calder was still producing elaborate large-scale mobiles, of which Horizontal is a striking example. Its colorful, expansive form is the result of both the artist’s unfettered imagination and his unmatched technical skill, resulting in his unique ability to produce works that contain both aesthetic and kinetic dynamism and mark him out as one of the most innovative artists of the twentieth century.

Horizontal is a superb illustration of the all- encompassing universality of Calder’s art. His unique ability was to produce a work of exquisitely balanced configuration that retained its compositional integrity when nature intervened, be it a breath of wind or the gust of air as someone walks past. The multi-colored elements of the present work are all affixed by a series of wires which 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; one of his first sculptures, created in 1909, was a duck made of brass sheet that moved back-and-forth when tapped. As he later delved into nonobjective art, he went on to engage notions of immateriality and the sublime: “To me whatever sphere, or other form, I use in these constructions does not necessarily mean a body of that size, shape or color, but may mean a more minute system of bodies, an atmospheric condition, or even a void. I.E. the idea that one can compose any things of which he can conceive” (A. Calder, “A Propos of Measuring a Mobile,” 1943). With its constellation of parallel discs, Horizontal takes on an almost spiritual quality, its colorful and organic forms exerting powerful forces beyond their physical presence.

The organic forms in Horizontal also seem to resonate with those of Calder’s close friend, the painter Joan Miró. The pair met in Paris in 1928 and Miró arguably became Calder’s greatest friend and confidante from that time forward. Both were interested in bringing elements of spontaneity into their art, although their work developed along entirely separate trajectories. Yet there are visual parallels between the work of the two artists as both Calder and Miró incorporate floating biomorphic forms which are connected by delicate black lines in their work. In the case of Miró, the forms float against atmospheric backgrounds, while in the case of Calder, the forms literally float in the air. In the case of the present work, the enigmatic forms evoke Miró’s highly regarded series of Constellations, visibly demonstrating the innovative nature of Calder’s artistic practice during this period in his career.

Color was also an important expressive device for Calder and one of the most important factors in his compositions. For the artist, vibrant pigment was not a representational force but rather an emotional one, in much the same way as Henri Matisse and André Derain, regarded the nontraditional use of color. Here, in the present work, Calder carefully exploits the optical effect of the changing intensity of color across all the elements, accentuating the horizontality of the composition to ensure each element combines into a myriad of multi-colored jewels when viewed from below.

Executed in 1956, Horizontal was produced during a particularly prolific period for the artist. The latter half of 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, Spirale 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 with Calder’s direct involvement using maquettes and detailed plans. 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.

There is perhaps no other postwar artist who so effortlessly elucidated his considerable technical ability with such elegance and grace, developing his signature abstract visual language that continues to delight and surprise despite the decades since their initial creation. Such an aspect undoubtedly benefits from the artist’s unflagging optimism despite the societal and political upheavals of the postwar world, both in the United States and abroad, about which he very succinctly explained, in conversation with the writer Selden Rodman in 1957: "About my method of work: first it's the state of mind. Elation. I only feel elation if I've got ahold of something good” (A. Calder, quoted in S. Rodman, "Conversations with Artists," New York, 1957, p. 140).

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