Property from The Foundation Mireille and James Lévy

Mushroom Has Red Face

Mushroom Has Red Face
standing mobile—sheet metal, rod, wire and paint
32 3⁄8 x 24 1⁄2 x 20 1⁄2 in. (82.2 x 62.2 x 52.1 cm.)
Executed in 1949.
Estate of the artist
Pace Gallery, New York, 1982
Private collection, 1985
Waddington Galleries, London
Acquired from the above by the present owner, 1993
J. J. Sweeney, Alexander Calder, New York, 1951, p. 65 (illustrated in its original form).
F. Jotterand, "Alexandre Calder ou la sculpture en mouvement", France Illustration, no. 416, November 1954, p. 67 (illustrated).
G. Carandente, Calder: Mobiles and Stabiles, New York and Toronto, 1968, p. 35, pl. 5 (illustrated in its current form).
A. Calder, J. J. Sweeney and D. Lelong, Calder: l'Artiste et l'Oeuvre, Paris, 1971, pp. 45 and 132 (illustrated).
G. di San Lazzaro, ed., "Homage to Alexander Calder", XXe siècle Review, Paris, 1972, p. 88 (illustrated).
M. Bruzeau, Calder à Saché, Paris, 1975, p. 31, pl. 37 (illustrated).
New York, Buchholz Gallery / Curt Valentin, Calder, November-December 1949, p. 7, no. 11. (exhibited in its original form)
Paris, Galerie Maeght, Calder: Mobiles & Stabiles, June-July 1950, no. 38.
Amsterdam, Stedelijk Museum, Alexander Calder, October-November 1950, no. 30.
Stockholm, Galerie Blanche, Alexander Calder: Mobiles and Stabiles, December 1950, no. 30.
London, The Lefevre Gallery, Mobiles and Stabiles by Alexander Calder, January 1951, p. 5, no. 27.
Vienna, Neue Galerie, Alexander Calder, May-June 1951, p. 7, no. 27.
Hanover, Kestnergesellschaft, Alexander Calder: Stabiles, Mobiles, Gouachen, March-May 1954, p. 12, no. 9.
Berlin, Akademie der Künste, Alexander Calder, May-July 1967, p. 48, no. 47.
Saint-Paul-de-Vence, Fondation Maeght, Calder, April-May 1969, p. 69, no. 95 (illustrated and exhibited in its current form).
Humlebaek, Louisiana Museum of Art, Calder, June-September 1969, no. 83 (illustrated on the back cover).
Amsterdam, Stedelijk Museum, Calder, October-November 1969, p. 40, no. 64.
New York, Pace Gallery, Calder's Calders, May-June 1985, p. 26 (illustrated).
Post lot text
This work is registered in the archives of the Calder Foundation, New York, under application number A07377.

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Kathryn Widing
Kathryn Widing Vice President, Specialist, Co-Head of Day Sale

Lot Essay

Why must art be static? You look at an abstraction, sculptured or painted, an intensely exciting arrangement of planes, spheres, nuclei, entirely without meaning. It would be perfect, but it is always still. The next step in sculpture is motion.
—Alexander Calder

Impressive in scale and presence, Mushroom Has Red Face (1949) presides over its surroundings with poise, strength and dynamism, proudly bearing its iconic Alexander Calder red, black and white palette in a trinity of thoughtful elements. Supported by a carefully contorted black rod, the upper red plate reaches a delicate hook down to the corresponding loop on the dangling white element, which itself encompasses the central rod. Ovoid openings on each the red and white plates mimic each other in fluidity, inviting rather than rejecting an interaction with any passing breeze and foretelling Calder’s fusion of Surrealist aesthetic with technological possibilities into the latter decades of his career. As foils for the flat, floating planes, the black elements similarly secure to the base of the red plate, having plundered their disposition from nature directly, thus inciting a tension between the man-made plates and abstract kinetic elements. Taken in gestalt, Mushroom Has Red Face elegantly balances the apprehensions at play in the wake of the second world war with the sublime power of natural beauty.

Throughout the year of execution of the present lot, Calder was hard at work on another ambitious project – his International Mobile, conceived for the Third International Exhibition of Sculpture at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. His experiments in weight and gravity necessary for the proper distribution of form in International Mobile directly inform Mushroom Has Red Face, albeit on a more intimate scale, thereby rendering the standing mobile a veritable study of some of Calder’s most successful, revered creations.

Undoubtedly, these forms now realized had been taking shape in the artist’s mind for a good deal of time prior to their construction. Having first visited Paris in 1926 and subsequently met painter Joan Miró at the latter’s studio in 1928, Calder was soon whisked away into the Surrealist circles concerned with breathing in the city and breathing out a world of their own imagination: “It is impossible accurately to estimate the relative importance of the younger surrealists, until aided by the perspective of time. Outstanding among the newcomers seem to be Gisèle Prassinos, Richard Oelze, Hans Bellmer, Leonor Fini, Alexander Calder, and Joseph Cornell … Calder is sometimes surrealist and sometimes abstractionist. It is to be hoped that he may soon choose in which direction he will throw the weight of his talents” (J. Levy, Surrealism, New York, 1936, p. 28). Echoing Calder’s ongoing itinerancy between the United States and Europe, so too did his output seem to indicate a push-and-pull between his tendencies towards the aesthetics of both circles. Back home in Roxbury, Connecticut in 1949, Calder continued to rise above these opposing forces, creating an entirely new aesthetic vocabulary of his own imagining.

So emerges Mushroom Has Red Face, the perfect example of an artwork that resonates with both the uninhabitable Surrealist dream life alongside the rebellious removal of identifiable form championed by the Abstractionists. With a nod to nature in its title – which was given after the fact of creation – the present lot acknowledges its existence in physical space, interacting with outside forces every time someone brushes past causing gentle movement amongst the elements. Still, its arbitrary yet intentional contours bespeak a productive interest in liberating the artwork as the only possible expression of the artist’s inner life, making tangible what can only be felt. Exhibited to great fanfare at Fondation Maeght in 1969, the present work encapsulates the metaphorical struggle between Calder’s disparate engagements, while standing as a dignified reminder of what groundbreaking outcomes can result from an urge towards unity.

Property from The Foundation Mireille and James Lévy
Connoisseurs in the truest sense of the word, Mireille And James Lévy sought out objects with which they formed a very personal connection, displaying them with finesse and pride in their exquisite homes in Switzerland, New York and Los Angeles. Undeterred by academic classifications, their premise was “collecting pioneers of style and time. It goes without saying that we must find the works aesthetically pleasing,” the couple told Architectural Digest in March 1987, “but what most interests us is that these artists are witnesses to their time.”

A veritable witness to his time, Alexander Calder (1898-1976) captured both the energy and innovation of the twentieth century in his distinctive shaping of form using color and air. The works offered from The Foundation Mireille and James Lévy, Double Humpbacked Crinkly and Mushroom Has Red Face, tell a compelling story of Calder’s maturing understanding of balance in the context of his iconic stabile practice. Each in the Lévy collection for over two decades, these two special examples not only encompass the best of the artist’s body of work, but speak to the keen collecting eye with which Mireille and James Lévy approached the building of their collection for posterity.

Now their largess continues, as the proceeds from the sale of these works will continue the Lévy legacy of extraordinary philanthropy. Many institutions in the United States, Switzerland and Israel, including hospitals, medical research centers, museums and resettlement agencies for Jewish refugees, have received donations during the Lévys’ lifetime, and will continue to do so now, through The Foundation Mireille And James Lévy, the primary beneficiary of their joint estate.

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