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Pillars of the 20th Century: The Collection of William and Sahra Lese

National Gallery II (alternate maquette)

National Gallery II (alternate maquette)
incised with the artist's signature 'CA' (on the largest white element)
standing mobile—sheet metal, rod, wire and paint
11 ½ x 39 x 12 in. (29.2 x 99.1 x 30.5 cm.)
Executed in 1972.
Perls Galleries, New York
Richard Gray Gallery, Chicago, 1973
Private collection, Syracuse, Indiana, 1973
ACA Gallery, New York, 1978
Private collection
Anon. sale; Sotheby's, London, 26 June 1986, lot 699
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner
Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, Alexander Calder: A Retrospective Exhibition, Work From 1925-1974, October-December 1974, p. 23.
Further details
This work is registered in the archives of the Calder Foundation, New York, under application number A08146.

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Julian Ehrlich
Julian Ehrlich Associate Vice President, Specialist, Head of Post-War to Present Sale

Lot Essay

Suspended in motion, ever-responding at the whim of the environment around it, Alexander Calder's National Gallery II (alternate maquette) is a superb example of the artist's late fascination with anthropomorphism. Here, Calder's deft facility over the physical world translates his famed mobile into, perhaps, a fish swimming in water, its spine and gills tracing the currents of the sea.

The present work is a graceful arrangement of biomorphic shapes skillfully balanced on a single wire 'pied,' or foot, leaving open the opportunity of sudden dynamic movement through a gust of wind. Here, one may note the artist's Surrealist touch, with undercurrents of anthropomorphism eliciting a live form from disparate metal elements. It is only through Calder's unparalleled mastery of form that nature and machine may merge with such smooth elegance. Executed during the apex of the artist's career, National Gallery II (alternate maquette) aptly demonstrates an artist with full facility of their output; at this stage, concept and execution are one, with the artist's learned understandings of astronomy and engineering underpinning his fantastical forms. This union of rather contrasting interests in physics and a more imaginative observation of nature, though perhaps contradictory to others, is inseparably linked to Calder, “For Calder, physics is not a question of theories in a textbook but of sensations registered through the immediacy of nature” (J. Perl, “Sensibility and Science,” in Calder and Abstraction: From Avant-Garde to Iconic, exh. cat., Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 2013, p. 42).

In the present work, Calder's adoration for his signature red is on prime display. While color writ-large was a means through which Calder explored movement and the dynamic role of nature in his sculptures, it is his choice of signature red that holds a close place in the artist's heart, having noted "I love red so much that I almost want to paint everything red. I often wish that I'd been a fauve in 1905” (A. Calder, quoted in U. Mulas and H.H. Arnason, Calder, London, 1971, p. 69). Resolved to white and red, the present work illuminates Calder's keen use of color and physics to achieve an enamoring oscillation.

The present work invites movement both in its structural qualities and in the engagement that it invites; viewers and the work alike become mobile as each move around one another in a playful call-and-response. As the artist turned more derivatively to animal forms in the mature years of his career, National Gallery II (alternate maquette) is a superb example of a stabile at the precipice of being a living creature in its own right. In this regard, perhaps it may be considered that Calder is bringing the natural and the man made in closer proximity, blurring the lines between the two as both viewers and sculpture alike dance around one another within a shared environment. At a point where his career was dominated by large scale monumental stabiles, Calder, the man who made sculpture move, manages to establish a more close and equal relationship between artwork and viewer in the present lot, as his mobiles became their own form of living creatures.

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