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ALEXANDER CALDER (1898-1976)
ALEXANDER CALDER (1898-1976)
ALEXANDER CALDER (1898-1976)
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Where Christie’s has provided a Minimum Price Guar… Read more PROPERTY FROM AN IMPORTANT AMERICAN COLLECTION
ALEXANDER CALDER (1898-1976)

Untitled

Details
ALEXANDER CALDER (1898-1976)
Untitled
hanging mobile - pottery shards, glass shards, Plexiglas, wire and string
34 x 31 x 26in. (86.4 x 78.7 x 66cm.)
Executed circa 1944
Provenance
Private Collection, New York (gift from the artist and thence by descent).
Bo Franzen, Stockholm (acquired from the above in 1989).
William Beadleston Fine Art, New York.
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 1993.
Exhibited
New York, Gallery Schlesinger, Ghosts & Live Wires, 1990, p. 44, no. 17.
Washington D.C., National Gallery of Art, Alexander Calder: 1898-1976, 1998, p. 269, no. 224 (illustrated in colour). This exhibition later travelled to San Francisco, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.
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Post Lot Text
This work is registered in the archives of the Calder Foundation, New York, under application number A07288.

Brought to you by

Keith Gill
Keith Gill Head of Evening Sale

Lot essay

Calder’s accomplishment is the invention of a new microcosm in art. Its flora and fauna are made of wire, sheet metal, piping, glass, wood, and anything else tangible … with no purpose other than the dance of their own movements”

Clement Greenberg

Held in the same private collection for almost three decades, Alexander Calder’s Untitled (circa 1944) is a superb early mobile conjured from found fragments of glass, Plexiglas and pottery. Suspending these elements from a delicate, cascading structure of wire beams and string, Calder creates a dance of jewel-like colour: the mobile changes constantly as its components move through space, perpetually shifting into new patterns and relationships. The translucent glass and Plexiglas pieces—in tones of amber, pale green, cobalt blue, violet and bright red—sparkle, glow and cast coloured shadows according to the play of light, enhancing the mobile’s interaction with its surroundings. Relating to Calder’s celebrated Fish works of the same decade—which likewise incorporate glass fragments and other found objects—as well as to the glass and china Mobile (circa 1934) held in the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice, Untitled is a scintillating feat of ingenuity. In 1998, it was included in the major survey Alexander Calder: 1898-1976, which travelled from the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

The mid-1940s were years of great success and evolution for Calder. In September 1943, a retrospective of his work opened at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, making him the youngest artist to have ever been given that honour. Curated by James Johnson Sweeney and Marcel Duchamp, the exhibition proved so popular that its run was extended through January 1944. Two weeks after its conclusion, Calder visited Piet Mondrian in hospital in New York, and was by the Dutch painter’s side when he died. It was an apt end to a relationship that had been formative to Calder’s practice. The two artists had first met in 1930, while both were working in Paris: Calder credited his own turn to abstraction to his experience of Mondrian’s studio environment. ‘I suggested to Mondrian that perhaps it would be fun to make these rectangles [of cardboard tacked on the wall] oscillate’, he recalled; ‘… This one visit gave me a shock that started things’ (A. Calder, Calder: An Autobiography with Pictures, ed. J. Davidson, New York 1966, p. 113).

In 1945, another important friendship began when André Masson brought the existentialist philosopher and critic Jean-Paul Sartre to visit Calder at his home in Roxbury, Connecticut. This meeting led to Sartre writing the seminal appreciation of Calder’s work which prefaced his 1946 exhibition at Galerie Louis Carré, Paris. ‘One of Calder’s objects is like the sea’, Sartre wrote, ‘and equally spellbinding: always beginning over again, always new. A passing glance is not enough; you must live with it, be bewitched by it. Then the imagination revels in these pure, interchanging forms, at once free and rule-governed. These movements that intend only to please, to enchant our eyes, have nonetheless a profound and, as it were, metaphysical meaning’ (J-P. Sartre, ‘Les Mobiles des Calder’, in Alexander Calder: Mobiles, Stabiles, Constellations, exh. cat. Galerie Louis Carré, Paris 1946, p. 14).

… his mobiles are at once lyrical inventions, technical, almost mathematical combinations and the tangible symbol of Nature, of that great, vague Nature that squanders pollen and suddenly causes a thousand butterflies to take wing …”

Jean-Paul Sartre

Sartre’s evocation of the sea—a vast body of endless flux, change and motion—is particularly apposite in light of the present work, whose found components spin and drift like flotsam caught in the ocean’s currents. Indeed, Calder spoke of beachcombing for glass ‘eroded by sea and sand’ to use in his mobiles; he would also smash bottles against the wall of his barn studio, or discover broken crockery in old dump sites on his property. ‘I like broken glass on stems,’ he said, ‘old car parts, old spring beds, smashed tin cans, bits of brass imbedded in asphalt and I love pieces of red glass that come out of tail-lights’ (A. Calder, quoted in M. Prather, Alexander Calder 1898-1976, exh. cat. National Gallery of Art, Washington 1998, p. 231). Untitled features just such a section of clear, stemmed glass, while the red pieces may have originated in tail-lights as Calder describes. Gathering these disparate elements into a floating ballet, Calder captures a sensation of the rhythms, balances and forces that operate among the myriad moving parts of the world at large.

By transforming the stuff of everyday life into a complex, dreamlike constellation of colour and form, Calder in some ways furthers the legacy of his early years among the Surrealists in Paris. They, too, used found objects in their work, restaging or juxtaposing them in ways that altered their original significance. Unlike the objets trouvés of Duchamp or Man Ray, however, Calder’s objects were chosen more for their chromatic and structural qualities than for any evocative meaning. Already able to create an extraordinarily skilled variety of effects using metal, wire and wood, his resourceful approach simply extended beyond the studio to encompass the wider environment around him. Untitled combines Calder’s deft practical sense of how different materials could be used with his intuitive, imaginative eye for assemblies of colour and shape.

Always, with Calder, there is this deep, abiding optimism, this sense that when matter and energy meet, miracles can happen”

Jed Perl

‘I felt that there was no better model for me to work from than the Universe’, Calder once explained of his work. ‘… Spheres of different sizes, densities, colours 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 (eds.), Calder: Gravity and Grace, London 2004, p. 52). It is in this sense of vibrant, cosmic dynamism that the found materials of Untitled ultimately transcend their worldly origin. While the translucent elements lend it a gem-like splendour—Peggy Guggenheim’s similar mobile is certainly at home in the glittering environs of Venice, which also inspired Lucio Fontana’s glass-studded Venezie cycle of 1961—the work’s true brilliance lies in its communion with real space and time, which is activated anew with every viewer’s experience. Its motion is the marvellous choreography of life itself. As Sartre wrote, ‘Calder suggests nothing. He captures true, living movements and crafts them into something. His mobiles signify nothing, refer to nothing other than themselves. They simply are: they are absolutes’ (J-P. Sartre, ibid., p. 11).

Lot Essay Header Image: Calder with Red Disc and Gong (1940) and Untitled (circa 1940) in his Roxbury studio, 1944. Photograph by Eric Schaal. Photo: © Calder Foundation, New York / Art Resource, NY and © Eric Schaal, DACS 2021. Artwork: © 2021 Calder Foundation, New York/DACS, London.

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