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The Ghost

The Ghost
sheet metal, wire and paint
16 3/4 x 9 3/4 x 6in. (42.5 x 24.8 x 15.2cm.)
Executed in 1945
Galerie Louis Carré, Paris.
Kunsthalle Bern, Bern.
Private Collection, Bern (acquired from the above in 1947).
Thence by descent to the present owner in 1976.
Calder After the War, exh. cat., London, Pace Gallery, 2013 (illustrated, p. 142).
Alexander Calder: Multum in Parvo, exh. cat., New York, Dominique Levy Gallery, 2015 (illustrated, p. 16).
Alexander Calder: Minimal / Maximal, exh. cat., Berlin, Neue Nationalgalerie, 2021, no. 38 (illustrated, p. 77).
Paris, Galerie Louis Carré, Alexander Calder: Mobiles, Stabiles, Constellations, 1946.
Bern, Kunsthalle Bern, Calder, Léger, Bodmer, Leuppi, 1947, p. 5, no. 52.
Amsterdam, Stedelijk Museum, Alexander Calder / Fernand Léger, 1947, p. 6, no. 52.
Munich, Haus der Kunst, Elan vital oder Das Auge Der Eros: Kandinsky, Klee, Arp, Miro, Calder, 1994, p. 553, no. 187 (illustrated in color, pl. 443).
Special notice
This lot has been imported from outside of the UK for sale and placed under the Temporary Admission regime. Import VAT is payable at 5% on the hammer price. VAT at 20% will be added to the buyer’s premium but will not be shown separately on our invoice.
Further details
This work is registered in the archives of the Calder Foundation, New York, under application number A14659.

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Michelle McMullan
Michelle McMullan Head of Evening Sale

Lot Essay

Held in the same family collection since 1947, The Ghost (1945) is a lively and elegant early standing mobile by Alexander Calder. Fashioned from sheet metal, a sinuous tripod form—painted bright red, with one leg in black—rears upwards. It is perforated with three differently-sized holes: through the upper two swoop curving lengths of wire, each bearing metal elements at either end. Respectively pairing a red with a black disc and a yellow disc with a blue triangular paddle, these balanced masses swing gently back and forth in space, adding physical motion to an already visually dynamic presence. The work embodies dramatically different forms when viewed from different angles, as its planar silhouettes, lines and positive and negative spaces shift into ever-changing new relationships. Calder typically titled his abstract works after their creation, and the name The Ghost may have been inspired by the red tripod’s nebulous, anthropomorphic form. It also points, however, to the fascination with the unseen forces that govern movement and matter which—while firmly rooted in physics—lends Calder’s works their inimitable air of magic and mystery. In 1946, The Ghost was shown in the important early exhibition Alexander Calder: Mobiles, Stabiles, Constellations at Galerie Louis Carré, Paris, whose catalogue featured the first appearance of Jean-Paul Sartre’s seminal text ‘Les Mobiles de Calder.’

The Ghost is among a number of small-scale works Calder made in his Roxbury, Connecticut studio in 1945, some of them using material trimmed from other objects. On viewing them, Calder’s friend Marcel Duchamp suggested they take advantage of the newly available international airmail system to send the works to Louis Carré for an exhibition at his Paris gallery. Carré gladly accepted the proposal. Intrigued by the U.S. Postal Service’s limitations on parcel size, Calder also went on to create larger, collapsible works, intended to be reassembled upon their arrival in Paris. With these logistical experiments, even the conception of the 1946 exhibition was informed by Calder’s special interest in his works’ movements through space and time: Duchamp’s action also predated the idea of ‘mail art’ by some two decades.

By 1945, Calder—born in Pennsylvania to an artistic family in 1898—was an artist of international renown. He had completed a number of major public commissions, exhibited widely on both sides of the Atlantic, and staged a retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art, New York. It was during his Paris years of 1926 to 1933 that he had truly found his footing as a sculptor. Initially working in figurative mode, he transposed his skill as a draughtsman to deft linear wire sculptures that were effectively ‘drawings in space,’ creating portraits of society figures and fellow artists. Audiences gathered to see his celebrated Cirque Calder (1926-1931, Whitney Museum of Art, New York), a myriad of small, movable sculptures in wire, wood and found materials of circus performers—from contortionists to sword eaters to lion tamers—that he would manipulate live in what can be considered early instances of performance art. He gained considerable acclaim for these resourceful, extraordinarily inventive early works, and became a fully-fledged member of the Paris avant-garde, befriending artists including Duchamp, Fernand Léger, Hans Arp, le Corbusier, Theo van Doesburg and Joan Miró. It was a 1930 visit to the studio of Piet Mondrian, however, that proved to be his most formative encounter. The environment featured coloured cardboard rectangles tacked to the wall for compositional experimentation, creating a circumambient space of abstract colour and form. Calder credited this experience with his own shift to abstraction that year; his first mobiles soon followed. ‘I suggested to Mondrian that perhaps it would be fun to make these rectangles oscillate’, he recalled. ‘… This one visit gave me a shock that started things’ (A. Calder, Calder: An Autobiography with Pictures, ed. Jean Davidson, New York 1966, p. 113).

The term ‘mobile’ was coined by Duchamp in 1931. Arp suggested ‘stabile’ for his static works the following year, which also saw the mobiles’ public debut in an exhibition at Galerie Vignon. Working at first in a vocabulary of simple discs, spheres and wire, by the late 1930s Calder’s mobiles and stabiles began to incorporate undulating, biomorphic shapes that resonate with Arp’s reliefs and collages, as well as those that float through the Surrealist work of Miró. His palette, defined by blacks, whites and bold colours, was secondary to his forms, and used primarily for ‘differentiation.’ Calder radically departed from his contemporaries in his works’ revolutionary embrace of real space and time—a participatory quality foreshadowed by his Cirque Calder—and their overt grounding in physical reality, which contrasted with the more utopian, spiritual ideas of abstraction proposed by Mondrian.

Unlike his early wire caricatures, which were abstractions of real-world forms, Calder’s mobiles and stabiles were non-objective. He took the dynamics of the universe as his ‘model’, or philosophical platform: ‘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). The Ghost speaks less to the supernatural than to this understanding of the forces that are the hidden sources of all appearance, and the invisible, elusive wakes—like echoes, or afterimages—that follow moving elements in space. The work partakes equally in the visible and the unseen. With its counterbalanced wire elements passing through one side of the stabile to the other, it seems to foreground a reach between realms. Characterful, poised and energetic, The Ghost exemplifies Jean-Paul Sartre’s apt description of the mobiles as ‘strange creatures, mid-way between matter and life’ (J. Sartre, ‘Les Mobiles des Calder’, in Alexander Calder: Mobiles, Stabiles, Constellations, exh. cat. Galerie Louis Carré, Paris, 1946, p. 17).

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