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Big Red Disc

Big Red Disc
signed with the artist’s monogram and dated ’70 CA’ (to the yellow element)
hanging mobile—sheet metal, wire and paint
40 x 90 x 50in. (101.6 x 228.6 x 127cm.)
Executed in 1970
Galerie Maeght, Paris.
Brook Street Gallery, London, 1975.
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 1975.
Albi, France, Musée Toulouse-Lautrec, Calder, 1971, p. 36, no. 23 (illustrated).
Palma de Mallorca, Sala Pelaires, Calder, 1972, p. 21 (illustrated).
Barcelona, Sala Gaspar, Calder: Escultures, 1973, no. 5 (illustrated).
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Further details
This work is registered in the archives of the Calder Foundation, New York, under application number A05426.

Brought to you by

Keith Gill
Keith Gill Vice-Chairman, 20th and 21st Century Art, Europe

Lot Essay

Last exhibited in 1973, and acquired by the present owner just two years later, Big Red Disc is a majestic large-scale example of Alexander Calder’s mobiles. Spanning over two metres in diameter, it consists of twelve individual sheets of painted metal, suspended from wire loops in a perpetual dance of colour and form. At the outer limits, the titular red disc looms large; below, a cascade of smaller circles unfolds, punctuated by a single splash of yellow. Opposite, another constellation hovers in orbit, comprising five irregular shapes in black, red and blue. Executed in 1970, it is a testament to the lyricism, harmony and dynamism that Calder cultivated in his sculptures over a period of four decades. The disc was one of the artist’s most important shapes, evoking the mysterious cycles of energy and nature; red, too, was among his most beloved colours. Here, the two come together in thrilling unison, weaving poetry in motion from the most elemental materials, forms and hues.

Big Red Disc may be seen to look back to one of Calder’s earliest artistic epiphanies. In June 1922, he served as a fireman in a boiler room on a ship sailing from New York to San Francisco via the Panama Canal. Waking one morning on the deck, he witnessed a sight that seared itself in his memory. ‘It was early one morning on a calm sea, off Guatemala,’ he recalled in his autobiography, ‘when over my couch—a coil of rope—I saw the beginning of a fiery red sunrise on one side and the moon looking like a silver coin on the other. Of the whole trip this impressed me most of all; it left me with a lasting sensation of the solar system’ (A. Calder, An Autobiography with Pictures, New York 1966, pp. 54-55). Over the course of his practice, he would repeatedly articulate his fascination with the dynamism of the universe; his friend Joan Miró also employed a vocabulary of discs and spheres in his paintings. Here, Calder’s litany of circles seems to chart a circumference of the unseen: as the artist explained, ‘whatever sphere, or other form, I use in these constructions does not necessarily mean a body of that size, shape or colour, but may mean a more minute system of bodies, an atmospheric condition, or even a void’ (A. Calder, ‘A Propos of Measuring a Mobile’, manuscript, Archives of American Art, 1943).

By 1970, Calder had taken his place as one of the twentieth century’s most important living artists. He had travelled the world, living among the Surrealists in 1920s Paris, and later working in locations ranging from Ahmedabad to Beirut to Caracas. He had designed monumental artworks for major international landmarks, including New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport and the UNESCO Headquarters in Paris. Marcel Duchamp had coined the term ‘mobiles’ upon seeing Calder’s creations, and Jean-Paul Sartre had written eloquently of their beauty. Amid this success, however, Calder never lost touch with his singular, intuitive vision. Following a revelatory visit to Piet Mondrian’s studio in 1930, where the artist’s environmental installation impressed him, he had turned to abstraction and devoted his life to exploring the possibilities of colour and form in motion, stripping art down to its most basic principles and allowing nature to intervene. Works such as the present are beholden to the slightest gust of air or most imperceptible change of light, morphing and mutating with the rising and setting of the sun. The big red disc, as such, becomes a symbol of Calder’s oeuvre more broadly, invoking both the cyclical simplicity and unfathomable mysteries of the forces that move our world.

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