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Alexander Calder (1898-1976)
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Alexander Calder (1898-1976)

21 Feuilles Blanches

Alexander Calder (1898-1976)
21 Feuilles Blanches
hanging mobile—sheet metal, wire and paint
59 x 80 1/2 x 35 in. (149.9 x 204.5 x 88.9 cm.)
Executed in 1953.
Galerie Maeght, Paris
Private collection, Switzerland, 1955
By descent from the above to the present owners
J.-P. Crespelle, "Avec ses 'mobiles' l'Américain Calder s'apprête à revolutionner le cadre de notre vie," France-Soir, 13 November 1954 (illustrated).
Pour Tous, 6 December 1954.
P.-G. Bruguière, "L'objet-mobile de Calder," Cahiers d'Art, vol. 29, no. 2, 1954, p. 226 (illustrated).
"Mobiles," Marie-France, 4 July 1955, (illustrated).
M. Seuphor, The Sculpture of this Century, Neuchâtel, 1959, p. 84 (illustrated).
A. Calder, J. J. Sweeney and D. Lelong, Calder, l'artiste et l'oeuvre, Paris, 1971, p. 9 (illustrated).
Calder's Universe, exh. cat., New York, Whitney Museum of American Art, 1976, p. 264 (illustrated).
J. Lipman and M. Aspinwall, eds. Alexander Calder and His Magical Mobiles, New York, 1981, p. 6 (illustrated).
"Alexander Calder," Louisiana Revy, vol. 36, no. 1, September 1995, p. 52 (illustrated).
Alexander Calder (1898-1976), exh. cat., Stockholm, Moderna Museet, 1996, p. 84 (illustrated).
Alexander Calder: 1898-1976, exh. cat., Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, 1996, pp. 11 and 186 (illustrated).
A. S. C. Rower, Calder Sculpture, New York, 1998, p. 1 (illustrated).
Alexander Calder: 1898-1976, exh. cat., Washington, D.C., National Gallery of Art, 1998, p. 287, fig. 51 (illustrated).
Alexander Calder: Motion and Color, exh. cat., Iwaki City Art Museum, 2000, pp. 167 and 194-195 (illustrated).
H. Greenfeld, The Essential Alexander Calder, New York, 2003, p. 112 (illustrated).
Calder: Gravity and Grace, exh. cat., Fundación del Museo Guggenheim Bilbao, 2003, p. 259 (illustrated).
Calder: Poetry in Motion, exh. cat., Seoul, Kukje Gallery, 2003, p. 21 (illustrated).
P. Geis, La petite galerie de Calder, Paris, 2009, p. 2 (illustrated).
Alexander Calder and Contemporary Art: Form, Balance, Joy, exh. cat., Chicago, Museum of Contemporary Art, 2010, p. 107 (illustrated).
Calder's Portraits: A New Language, exh. cat., Washington, D.C., National Portrait Gallery, 2011, p. ii and 124, fig. 104 (illustrated).
Calder, exh. cat., Seoul, Leeum, Samsung Museum of Art, 2013, p. 39 (illustrated).
A. S. C. Rower, ed., "Calder in France," Cahiers d'Art, vol. 39, no. 1, 2015, pp. 164 and 177-178 (illustrated).
P. Tubella, "El arte en suspensión de un genio," El País, 10 November 2015, p. 27 (illustrated).
A. Searle, "Rotation, rotation, rotation," The Guardian, 10 November 2015, p. 16 (illustrated).
Alexander Calder: Performing Sculpture, exh. cat., London, Tate Modern, 2015, p. 2 (illustrated).
K. Wright, "Three-Ring Circus of Delights," The Independent, 16 November 2015, p. 40 (illustrated).
"Alexander Calder: 'sculpteur de vent,' 'forgeron lunaire.'" L'Objet d'Art, January 2016, p. 70 (illustrated).
A. Coxon, "Performing Sculpture," Blueprint Magazine, February 2016, p. 136 (illustrated).
Calder: Forgeron des géantes libellules, exh. cat., Rodez, Musée Soulages, 2017, p. 17 (illustrated).
Paris, Galerie Maeght, Aix. Saché. Roxbury. 1953-54, November-December 1954, no. 13.
Saint-Paul-de-Vence, Fondation Maeght; Humlebaek, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art; Amsterdam, Stedelijk Museum, Calder, April-November 1969, no. 98 (Saint-Paul-de-Vence); no. 86 (Humlebaek); p. 9, no. 67 (Amsterdam, illustrated).
Munich, Haus der Kunst; Kunsthaus Zürich, Calder, May-November 1975, no. 39 (Munich); no. 37 (Zürich).

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Ana Maria Celis
Ana Maria Celis

Lot Essay

This work is registered in the archives of the Calder Foundation, New York, under application number A00876.

Alexander Calder’s 21 Feuilles Blanches, is one of the artist’s most accomplished and iconic sculptures. Comprised of 21 white elements suspended so that they hover effortlessly in the air, the work embodies Calder’s technical and aesthetic skill. At over six feet across, the scale of the work commands a presence that transfixes its audience; its form constantly evolving to interact with its environment, as petals come to rest in a slightly different place. In addition to its formal beauty, 21 Feuilles Blanches is also one of the artist’s most recognizable works due to the fact that it was featured in one of the most famous photographs of the artist. Taken by Agnès Varda, the 1954 picture features Calder holding this sculpture on a Paris street. One of the most reproduced images of the artist, the photograph has appeared in many monographs and exhibition catalogues. Acquired by the present owner from the Galerie Maeght in 1955, 21 Feuilles Blanches has remained with the family for the past 50 years.

Each of Calder’s mobiles invite their audience into a transcendent space, a place where a patient viewer allows the infinite subtleties of the artist’s work to dance before them. This is most evident in his monochromatic mobiles where the singular colors juxtapose the subtle movements. Suspended by a single wire, each of the 21 elements is attached to a thin metal armature. As the tension gracefully bends the wire, the "suspended" elements appear to be taking part in an elegant ballet. Most of the elements are solid; discs, triangular forms, tear drops and even a heart-shaped element are among the organic forms. Two of the elements are punctured, giving them an additional lightness that resounds throughout the composition. Thus, 21 Feuilles Blanches is foremost among Calder’s white monochromes. It is an exquisite white mobile whose metaphor magnifies its beauty; the gentle trajectory of elements is as impossible to reproduce as the pattern between one snowflake and the next.

Jean-Paul Sartre, the father of modern existentialism, declared that Calder "does not suggest movement, he captures it.” Calder’s unique method, which finesses thin metal wires into abstractions, but also animals, extensive circus performances, feats of nature, and human beings, allows movement to work through his medium. Sartre championed Calder’s delicate work over Constantin Brancusi and Fernand Léger’s polished bronze and gold works. The artist’s divergence from the titans of modern sculpting bolsters Sartre’s assertion that Calder’s art transcends sculpture. Calder thereby breathed life and movement into contemporary sculpting, and his figures became three-dimensional paintings. Inhibited by neither weighty media nor the two-dimensionality of standard painting, his works are made anew with each recurrent glance; “One of Calder’s objects is like the sea 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 rulegoverned” (J.P. Sartre, "Les Mobiles des Calder," Alexander Calder: Mobiles, Stabiles, Constellations, exh. cat. Paris, 1946, pp. 9–19. Translation from Aftermath of War, Chris Turner, trans., 2008).

Cubists wanted to depict an object as though it were being seen from every possible angle all at once. As Marcel Duchamp brought motion to Cubism, so has Calder united the discourse between architecture and sculptural art. Nude Descending a Staircase No.2 (1912) is a figurative representation of movement that, for Duchamp, embraced movement as both a physical and emotional change. Duchamp engages motion more literally in his ready-mades, which are sculptures built from ordinary, everyday objects; “An ordinary object [could be] elevated to the dignity of a work of art by the mere choice of an artist” (M. Duchamp, quoted in The Art of Assemblage: A Symposium, Museum of Modern Art, New York, October 19, 1961). Ever the wordsmith, Duchamp coined the term “mobile” to describe Calder’s revolutionary kinetics. From the French, mobile indicates motion but also motive. Imbued with the Modernist obsession to capture motion in art, Duchamp’s first readymade was essentially a mounted mobile. A simple wheel seated on a stool, Bicycle Wheel (1913) sought to disrupt what constituted art and how it should be made. Duchamp ascribed the name to Calder’s works because Calder upended the idea that something three-dimensional could be seen in a single instance. To experience it properly one must await the chance encounter of breeze, or force the mobile to move.

Whereas its size may mistakenly imply that the work is itself cumbersome, the sheer genius of 21 Feuilles Blanches is its apparent weightlessness. Its ability to balance a commanding presence with effortless kinetic energy typifies Calder’s foremost mobiles—a feat that has long fascinated modern architects. 21 Feuilles Blanches calls to mind another of Calder’s large scale mobiles, Black Widow (1948), a black monochrome that Tate Modern exhibited at Calder: Performing Sculpture in 2016. Black Widow presents the mobile as an architect; hanging from above, it conspires with mobile architecture and expands the building’s scope. Rather than hanging at the mercy of modern architecture, Calder’s work enhances its environs with subtle, yet constant, movement.

By the 1950s, Calder’s impressively diverse oeuvre already included monumental sculptures, mobiles, and gouaches. It was an exceptionally prolific period in his career, where he accepted new opportunities and earned international recognition. His infinite imagination motivated him to continue creating new and ground-breaking works. The decade saw dramatic demand for his work, and he earned universal praise in the United States and abroad. Following great successes in the 1940s, which included a mid-career retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, and a major European breakthrough with a solo exhibition at Galerie Louis Carré in Paris, Calder maintained robust momentum in growing his reputation and acclaim. In 1952, he had the honor of representing the United States at the Venice Biennale, where he won the Grand Prize for sculpture. There has always been a distinct universality to Calder’s work; his mobiles, sculptures and paintings have received admiration from people across the globe. His visual affinity with European artists, like Kandinsky or Arp, reveals similar sensibilities to color, form, visual purity, and gesture. Calder was nonetheless a truly American artist, a precursor to the Abstract Expressionists, whose influence gained prominence in New York across the 1940s and 1950s. Calder possessed a truly original visual language, which has earned him an unparalleled position in the 20th century artistic canon.

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