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A Century of Art: The Gerald Fineberg Collection

Caged Stone on Yellow Stalk

Caged Stone on Yellow Stalk
incised with the artist's monogram 'CA' (on the black element)
sheet metal, rod, stone, wire and paint
75 x 42 x 24 1/2 in. (190.5 x 106.7 x 62.2 cm.)
Executed circa 1955.
Perls Galleries, New York
Ruth Page, Chicago
Richard Gray Gallery, Chicago, 1983
Jeffrey Hoffeld and Co. Inc., New York
Private collection, New York, 1984
Richard Gray Gallery, Chicago
Acquired from the above by the present owner, 2010
Pittsfield, Berkshire Museum, Mobiles by Alexander Calder, July 1966, n.p. (titled Caged Stone on Red Stalk).
Chicago, Richard Gray Gallery, Modern and Contemporary Masters: Paintings, Sculpture and Drawings, February-March 1984, n.p., no. 13 (illustrated as Caged Stone on Red Stalk).
Further details
This work is registered in the archives of the Calder Foundation, New York, under application number A08035.

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Lot Essay

A significant example of one of Alexander Calder’s Standing Mobiles, Caged Stone on Yellow Stalk harnesses the power of kinetic energy to create a lyrical composition that moves majestically in space. Realized at a pivotal point in Alexander Calder’s career, this work was created a year after the artist and his family settled in Saché, France where he had established a new studio and home. This period saw an outpouring of creativity, as his work developed to incorporate a larger scale and ever greater complexity. “There has been an agrandissement in my work,” Calder said in 1960. “It’s true that I’ve more or less retired from the smaller mobiles. I regard them as just fiddling. The engineering on the big objects is important…” (A. Calder quoted in M. Prather, Alexander Calder 1898-1976, exh. cat. National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1998, p. 279). Thus, with works such as this, Calder began to explore new creative horizons, while at the same time perfecting his iconic kinetic forms.

Standing a little over human height, Caged Stone on Yellow Stalk is a delicate construction that exemplifies Calder’s nuanced manipulation of his line in three dimensions. The titular yellow stalk rests on the floor, its base an acute angle of brightly-painted metal that gently shoots upward at right angles to the floor. From its tip, a network of wires spring like branches from the trunk of a sapling that has recently burst forth from the ground. Arcing upwards, a curved wire ends in a number of lengths with yellow disks at their ends that move gracefully in the air. On the opposite end of the visual spectrum, the caged stone migrates downward on its own tendril of metal, the wire extending to wrap around the rock in an open lattice that reveals the natural material inside. As the literal counterbalance, a tumultuous cascade of wire segments expands on the opposite side of the composition. These fronds end in white, black, blue, red, and yellow disks of various sizes in an effusive display of Calder’s deft handling of simple materials to create lively gestures. “Why must art be static?” the artist famously implored. “You look at an abstraction, sculptured or painted, an intensely exciting arrangement of planes, spheres, nuclei, entirely without meaning. It would be perfect, but it is always still. The next step in sculpture is motion.” (A. Calder, quoted in: “Objects To Art Being Static, So He Keeps It In Motion,” New York World-Telegram, June 11, 1932). Caged Stone on Yellow Stalk is technically a standing mobile, but whereas Calder sometimes used a form more reminiscent of his stabiles in these pieces, here he swaps in the stalk form which serves to lighten the overall composition and enhance the visual elegance afforded by the rotating segments.

Why must art be static? You look at an abstraction, sculptured or painted, an intensely exciting arrangement of planes, spheres, nuclei, entirely without meaning. It would be perfect, but it is always still. The next step in sculpture is motion.(A. Calder, quoted in: “Objects To Art Being Static, So He Keeps It In Motion,” New York World-Telegram, June 11, 1932).

A critical link between the European avant-garde and the burgeoning modernists in New York, Calder’s early forays to Paris set the stage for a lifelong conversation between his American roots and the innovations he found overseas. Of particular relevance was the artist’s introduction to Surrealism and some of its key players. André Breton, among others, made Calder’s acquaintance and brought some of the movement’s key tenets to the young sculptor’s attention. Writing about the expanding field of Surrealism in the 1930s, New York gallerist Julien Levy said “It is impossible accurately to estimate the relative importance of the younger surrealists, until aided by the perspective of time. Outstanding among the newcomers seem to be Gisèle Prassinos, Richard Oelze, Hans Bellmer, Leonor Fini, Alexander Calder, and Joseph Cornell … Calder is sometimes surrealist and sometimes abstractionist. It is to be hoped that he may soon choose in which direction he will throw the weight of his talents” (J. Levy, Surrealism, New York, 1936, p. 28). Calder never quite became a true Surrealist, instead he played ideas of both movements off of each other in an attempt to use chance encounters in service of his more formal concerns.

From early in his career, Calder often embraced natural forms in his work. His abstract works sprang from these forms, and soon organic motifs began to be incorporated into his kinetic sculptures too. “From the beginning of my abstract work… I felt there was no better model for me to choose than the Universe,” he noted. “Spheres of different sizes, densities, colors and volumes, floating in space, traversing clouds, sprays of water, currents of air, viscosities and odors—of the greatest variety and disparity” (A. Calder, quoted in J. Lipman, Calder’s Universe, exh. cat. Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, 1976, p. 18). Highlighting the movement of air and the lyrical motion of the cosmos, the mobiles became representative of more universal forces. Caged Stone on Yellow Stalk emphasizes these same ideas while also directly connecting to the earth via the inclusion of a physical stone encapsulated within its metal composition. By doing so, Calder creates a striking juxtaposition that marries the solid base of the earth with the ephemerality of the heavens.

Color was also important to Calder, and his works often included bold shades of primary colors in addition to black and white. This use might be traced back to the artist’s visit to the studio of Piet Mondrian in 1930, an experience that had a lasting effect on the young American artist. Enthralled with the Dutch painter’s use of similar color schemes to create endless variants of abstract lines, Calder was inspired to begin his own exploration of abstraction. Speaking to his chromatic decisions, the sculptor explained, “I have chiefly limited myself to the use of black and white as being the most disparate colours. Red is the colour most opposed to both of these – and then, finally, the other primaries. The secondary colours and intermediate shades serve only to confuse and muddle the distinctness and clarity” (A. Calder, quoted in M. Prather, op. cit., p. 230). Eschewing all but the primary colors, Caged Stone on Yellow Stalk sets itself apart from the infinite variations of nature. By introducing a more orderly system into his work, Calder was able to pay tribute to the neoplasticity of Mondrian’s work while creating a visual dynamism within his own that served to enhance and accentuate the motion contained within.

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