Alexander Calder (1898-1976)
The Arthur and Anita Kahn Collection: A New York Story
Alexander Calder (1898-1976)

Vertical out of Horizontal

Alexander Calder (1898-1976)
Vertical out of Horizontal
hanging mobile—sheet metal, wire and paint
54 x 61 x 40 in. (137.2 x 154.9 x 101.6 cm.)
Executed circa 1948.
Curt Valentin Gallery, New York, acquired from the artist
University of Nebraska, Lincoln, 1952
Their sale; Sotheby's New York, 6 November 1981, lot 398
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner
Alexander Calder: The 50s, exh. cat., Beverly Hills, Pace Wildenstein, 1995, p. 6 (installation view illustrated).
A Modern Definition of Space: Calder Sculpture, exh. cat., New York, Van de Weghe Fine Art, 2003, p. 83 (installation view illustrated).
"Calder," Arte y Parte, no. 44, April–May 2003, p. 31 (illustrated in color).
Calder: Poetry in Motion, exh. cat., Seoul, Kukje Gallery, 2003, p. 18 (installation view illustrated).
Calder: The Forties, exh. cat., London, Thomas Dane, 2005, p. 36 (installation view illustrated).
G. Souter, Alexander Calder, New York, 2006, p. 42 (illustrated in color).
Calder and Abstraction: From Avant-Garde to Iconic, exh. cat., Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 2013, p. 175 (installation view illustrated).

Cambridge, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Calder, December 1950–January 1951.
Washington, D.C., Institute of Contemporary Arts, Sculptures by Alexander Calder, April–June 1951.
New York, Curt Valentin Gallery, Alexander Calder: Gongs and Towers, January-February 1952, no. 12.
Lincoln, University of Nebraska Art Galleries, Nebraska Art Association Sixty-Second Annual Exhibition, March 1952.
Munich, Haus der Kunst, Elan Vital oder Das Auge Des Eros: Kandinsky, Klee, Arp, Miró, Calder, May-August 1994, pl. 459, no. 227 (illustrated in color).
Humlebaek, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art; Stockholm, Moderna Museet and Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, Alexander Calder, October 1995-October 1996, p. 59, no. 59 (illustrated).
Washington, D.C., National Gallery of Art and San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Alexander Calder 1898-1976, March-December 1998, pp. 260-261, no. 215 (illustrated in color).
Bilbao, Guggenheim Museum and Madrid, Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Calder: Gravity and Grace, March 2003-April 2004, no. 36 (illustrated in color).

Brought to you by

Sara Friedlander
Sara Friedlander

Lot Essay

This work is registered in the archives of the Calder Foundation, New York, under application number A03125.

Executed in 1948, the assembly of cascading forms that Alexander Calder presents in Vertical out of Horizontal is an early example of the artist’s iconic mobiles. Comprised of more than a dozen amorphous metal forms, Calder produces a work of poetic splendor as well as technical brilliance. Here he utilizes both his artistic eye and considerable mechanical ingenuity to produce an entirely new form of artistic expression, one which not only visually excites but also challenges the conventional notion of sculpture. Exhibited in the artist’s 1998 seminal retrospective organized by the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., this large scale work is one of the most accomplished of his early mobiles and set the standards for a body of work that would signal Calder as one of the most innovative and accomplished artists of his generation.

Suspended from a gently arcing curve of thin metal wire, fifteen metal forms appear to float effortlessly in mid-air. All black—apart from a single red and blue disk—Vertical Out of a Horizontal is one of Calder’s first works in which he introduces the cut-out metal into his forms. A vertical armature stretches out, supporting a cascading series of elements; some solid, some punctured by small circles which Calder cut out of them to enhance the sense of weightlessness, these elements appear to hover effortlessly in mid-air. As the vertical element morphs into the horizontal, two branches split off with each culminating in a perfectly round disk—one painted a deep royal blue and the other a fiery red. The sculpture culminates in a series of four elements—among the largest in the composition—that are suspended at the lowermost point of the sculpture. Balanced on the horizontal axis, when seen from below they act as formidable anchors, large solid elements which add both physical and aesthetic gravitas to the work. Yet when viewed at eye level they appear to disappear into thin air, their presence and weight almost vanishing before our eyes.

The beauty of Vertical out of Horizontal lies in its simplicity; from the formal purity of the dark forms with occasional punctuations of color, to the sublime gracefulness of the sculpture’s movement this particular work demonstrates the range of Calder’s skills. The mobile represents Calder’s consideration of multi-dimensional aspects and looks elegant if seen from the side, and yet from below, the concentration of black discs is also visually arresting, the shapes appear to float beside one another on one horizontal plane.
The present work was executed in 1948, two years after Calder’s ground breaking show at the Galerie Carré in Paris. This was to be one of the artist’s most important exhibitions in that it reinforced his reputation amongst Europe’s artistic and intellectual elite. This was due in part to the selection of Jean-Paul Sartre to write an introductory essay for the catalogue. This would become one of the most important writings on Calder’s work, and his mobiles in particular, and reinforced their place in the art historical canon. In it Sartre admired these new forms for their transitory, non-referential nature: “In short,” Sartre wrote, “although Calder has not sought to imitate anything—there is no will here, except the will to create scales and harmonies of unknown movements—his mobiles are at once lyrical inventions, technical, almost mathematical combinations and the tangible symbol of Nature, of that great, vague Nature that squanders pollen and suddenly causes a thousand butterflies to take wing, that Nature of which we shall never know whether it is the blind sequence of causes and effects or the timid, endlessly deferred, rumpled and ruffled unfolding of an Idea.” (J. Sartre, quoted at [accessed October 9, 2015]).

The visual purity of Vertical out of Horizontal results in part from Calder’s deliberate decision to restrict his palette to just three colors; predominately black with a burst of red and blue. One of the key factors that distinguished the artist’s work throughout his life was his use of color and by omitting some his usual eye-catching primary colors here, he focuses attention on the purity of the forms themselves. This device enhances the work’s already dramatic silhouette and coupled with the other, almost minimal aspects of the piece, such as the thin, narrow body and supports, and the cut-outs within the floating forms, Calder seeks to enhance the appreciation of grace and beauty. This aesthetic found particular favor with Calder as monochromatic works became a frequent part of his work during the 1950s.

Sartre’s essay, and the reception of Calder’s work in general, revealed the esteem in which he was still held in France after the years of his absence during the Second World War. After all, it was in Paris that the mobiles had come into existence. This was a popularity that was echoed in his native United States, where another important exhibition of his work during the War in 1943 (at the Museum of Modern Art in New York) had to be extended due to the sheer number of visitors who came, desperate to see the incredible reincarnations of humble materials that took to seemingly magical flight in the wire-linked constructions that Calder displayed. The Second World War itself played an important part in the genesis of the works produced during this period as because of the scarcity of metal during the war, Calder found himself making the most of scraps and shards of material, which were granted new life in their new contexts. In this sense, Calder demonstrated a unique and poetic resourcefulness and resilience. His works from this time such as Vertical out of Horizontal, with its multitude of varied shapes and forms could be read as fluttering, gossamer-like banners of defiance. They refuse to allow the dark goings-on in the wider world to permeate them, but instead serve as engaging beacons of hope.
Alexander Calder has been called the only artist in the history to have invented and then practiced an art form of his own. His beautifully constructed mobiles, resonate in a myriad of dimensions as their form, color and movement provides a unique dialogue on the nature of abstraction. With its strong visual aesthetic and graceful sense of movement, Vertical out of Horizontal becomes the embodiment of Calder’s artistic practice

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