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Alexander Calder (1898-1976)
Alexander Calder (1898-1976)
Alexander Calder (1898-1976)
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Alexander Calder (1898-1976)
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On occasion, Christie's has a direct financial int… Read more Property from an Important Private Collection
Alexander Calder (1898-1976)

Tuning Fork

Details
Alexander Calder (1898-1976)
Tuning Fork
incised with the artist’s monogram 'CA’ (on the largest black element)
hanging mobile—sheet metal, wire and paint
28 x 43 x 15 in. (71.1 x 109.2 x 38.1 cm.)
Executed in 1942.
Provenance
Perls Galleries, New York
Acquired from the above by the present owner, 1977
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Post Lot Text
This work is registered in the archives of the Calder Foundation, New York, under application number A05424.

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Lot essay

In the same private collection for almost fifty years, Alexander Calder’s Tuning Fork is a supreme example of the elegant and lyrical sculptures that would be a staple of the artist’s career for the next thirty years. Executed in 1942, the graceful silhouette and black palette complemented with bursts of bold colors, are early examples of the artist’s compositional skill, assembling elements of different sizes and colors into a coherent whole. Measuring just over three feet across at its widest point, Tuning Fork’s intimate scale affords the opportunity to examine Calder’s technique at close quarters. Clearly visible are the carefully planned elements, each considered both in aesthetic terms and in terms of more physical properties, that enable it to float and dance in the air resulting in a seamless symphony of color and movement.

Using an unrivaled blend of visual and technical skill, Calder assembled the metal pieces to work in harmony, conveying a sense of elegant movement with which he sought to imbue his mobiles. Tall vertical fronds, combined with a lithe horizontal progression of metal elements, result in a holistic experience of the artist’s unique practice. The title for this abstract work—given after the fact of creation based on a vague description of forms—comes from the ‘Y’ shaped combination of soaring metal wire topped by a yellow and blue finial and anchored by a blue element, located at one side of the sculpture. This balance of vertical and horizontal, color and monochrome, give an overall sense of balance and elegance.

Executed in 1942, Tuning Fork is an example of Calder’s exploration into producing a work which displays perfect equilibrium, while at the same time achieving the degree of aesthetic integrity that he demanded. The artist achieves this by carefully counterbalancing elements across the composition, incorporating forms which are both functional as well as beautiful. This results in a pleasing visual steadiness between the smaller and larger elements, which act together to provide aesthetic and functional balance. Arriving at this exactness took time as well as considerable technical skill, as the artist assembled various configurations of shapes and weights before deciding which one offered him the perfect sense of both formal and physical balance that he desired.

The work also represents an example of Calder’s interest in sound as an artistic medium. It was something that he first employed in in his 1926-31 performance work Cirque Calder, in which noise, bells, cymbals and even harmonicas were an important part of the overall composition. Calder followed this with mobiles that incorporated gongs, and the resulting sound became as integral as the color, form and movement for which his work has become so well known.

The organic forms on display here also evoke the spirit of Calder’s friend, the painter Joan Miró. The pair met in Paris in 1928 and Miró arguably became Calder’s greatest artistic friend and confidante from that time forward. Their work developed along entirely separate trajectories, although both artists sought to bring elements of spontaneity into their art. There's a visual resonance between the work of the two artists as both Calder and Miró incorporate floating biomorphic forms which are connected by delicate 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.

Calder [has the] ability to salvage from our unlikely modern materials an art form that sways in the breeze like a bamboo reed on a river bank.”

(H. McBride, 1943, quoted in J. Marter, Alexander Calder, Cambridge, 1991, p. 203).  

Tuning Fork was executed at a pivotal point in the artist’s oeuvre. Realized just a year before the extraordinary popularity of his 1943 exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, an event which made his presence palpable on the New York art scene. Of Calder’s talent for pairing balance and motion, the New York art critic Henry McBride said, “Calder [has the] ability to salvage from our unlikely modern materials an art form that sways in the breeze like a bamboo reed on a river bank.” (H. McBride, 1943, quoted in J. Marter, Alexander Calder, Cambridge, 1991, p. 203). Calder’s capacity to render such grace and levity while utilizing industrial materials is something that allows his sculptures to continue to challenge our conceptions of matter, and the way objects exist in space.


Lot Essay Header Image: Present lot illustrated (detail).

The work also represents an example of Calder’s interest in sound as an artistic medium. It was something that he first employed in in his 1926-31 performance work Cirque Calder, in which noise, bells, cymbals and even harmonicas were an important part of the overall composition. Calder followed this with mobiles that incorporated gongs, and the resulting sound became as integral as the color, form and movement for which his work has become so well known.

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