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Alexander Calder (1898-1976)
Property from the Collection of Max Palevsky
Alexander Calder (1898-1976)

Red Curlicue

Alexander Calder (1898-1976)
Red Curlicue
signed with initials 'CA' (lower edge)
stabile--painted sheet metal
192 x 126 x 96 in. (487.7 x 320 x 243.8 cm.)
Executed in 1973.
Perls Galleries, New York
Acquired from the above by the present owner, 1974

Lot Essay

This work is registered in the archives of the Calder Foundation, New York, under the application number A04788.

'How does art come into being? Out of volumes, motion and spaces, carved out within the surrounding space, the universe. Out of different masses, tight, heavy, middling - achieved by variations of size and color. Out of directional line - vectors representing motion, velocity, acceleration, energy etc - lines which form significant angles and directions, making up one or several tonalities. Spaces and volumes, created by the slightest opposition to their mass, or penetrated by vectors, traversed by momentum. None of this is fixed. (A. Calder, 'Comment realiser l'art?', Abstraction-Creation, Art Non-Figuratif, No. 1, 1932, p. 6).

Alexander Calder's monumental Red Curlicue beautifully shows the artist investigating space and volume with its graceful, arching, bright red fronds, while retaining supreme grace and beauty. Metal vectors gently curve, rising up through the air with elegance and poise like a tropical plant straining to catch the early morning sun's first warmth. Calder majestically compliments these central blades with his unique, wry sculptural humor, using the refined and highly gestural curlicue, which breaks free from the composition's geometric formality to bring an extra breath of life and energy. Although he made it very large, Calder delicately balanced its steel elements and the open composition of the structure encourages us to explore this splendid form.

Developed within the tradition of European Modernism, Calder's later outdoor works display his unique skill at making grand and dignified public artworks that retain a human scale with humor and enchantment. Outdoor sculpture has always been an important part of Calder's oeuvre. He made his first outdoor works in his Roxbury, Connecticut studio, using the same techniques and materials as his smaller works. Exhibited outside, Calder's initial standing mobiles moved elegantly in the breeze, bobbing and swirling in natural, spontaneous rhythms. In fact, the first few outdoor works were too delicate for strong winds, which forced Calder to rethink his fabrication process. In 1936, he responded to the problem, changing his working methods. He began to create smaller scale maquettes that he then enlarged to monumental size. The larger works were made under his direction, using the classic enlargement techniques used in different ways by traditional sculptors, including his father and grandfather. Calder began to draw his designs on brown craft paper, which he enlarged using a grid. His large-scale works were created according to his exact specifications while also allowing him the liberty to adjust or correct a shape or line if necessary.

Calder excelled at matching sculpture with its environment, whether designing for a private sculpture garden or an open urban space. In addition, his engineering background and artistic vision mixed perfectly to realize such monumental artworks. As Calder's friend Robert Osborn wrote: 'Calder has always been an engineer. He has clothed the forces of his engineering with his joyful imagination and his lithe sense of beauty. But the well-spring of his art remains the thrusts, the tensions, the stress-loads, the balances, the force of gravity, which the engineer proceeds to adjust and join' (J. Lipman, Calder's Universe, New York, 1976, pp. 306-307).

Ever since the 1920s and his wire sculptures of circus performers, Calder had the extraordinary ability to capture with ingenuity and engineering elegance the very essence of beauty and elegance in his art. His monumental outdoor sculptures were made at the pinnacle of his career and display all the self-confidence of an artist at the very height of his creative and technical ability. Red Curlicue encapsulates all at is best about Calder's later monumental outdoor sculpture. His vivid use of color, his skillful exploitation of scale and his ability to create a graceful form out of metal gives the work a sense of supreme majesty and when placed outdoors, the sculpture becomes a stunning compliment to its natural surroundings.

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