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

Seven Horizontal Discs

Alexander Calder (1898-1976)
Seven Horizontal Discs
signed with initials 'CA' (on the largest element)
hanging mobile--painted sheet metal and wire
53 x 43 x 43 in. (134.6 x 109.2 x 109.2 cm.)
Executed in 1946.
Loeb & Krugier Gallery, New York
Anon. sale; Sotheby's, New York, 13 May 1970, lot 89
Perls Galleries, New York
Susan Merians, Princeton, 1971
Private collection, New Jersey
Acquired from the above by the present owner
Saint-Paul de Vence, Foundation Maeght, Calder, April-May 1969, no. 82.
Paris, Galerie Louis Carré et Cie., Alexander Calder--Mobiles, Stabiles, Constellations, October-November 1946, no. 16.
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Lot Essay

This work is registered in the archives of the Calder Foundation, New York, under the application number A00865.

"The 'mobiles,' which are neither wholly alive nor wholly mechanical, and which always eventually return to their original form, may be likened to water grasses in the changing currents, or to the petals of the sensitive plant, or to gossamer caught in an updraft. In short, although 'mobiles' do not seek to imitate anything because they do not 'seek' any end whatever, unless it be to create scales and chords of hitherto unknown movements-they are nevertheless at once lyrical inventions, technical combinations of an almost mathematical quality, and sensitive symbols of Nature, of that profligate Nature which squanders pollen while unloosing a flight of a thousand butterflies; of that inscrutable Nature which refuses to reveal to us whether it is a blind succession of causes and effects, or the timid, hesitant, groping development of an idea" (J.P. Sartre, "The Mobiles of Calder," Alexander Calder, exh. cat., New York, 1947).

Seven Horizontal Discs is one of Alexander Calder's most historically significant mobiles, having been featured in two of his most important lifetime exhibitions, the show held at Louis Carré's gallery in 1946 in the wake of the Second World War. Complex yet delicate, the intricately balanced, sometimes colored forms of Seven Horizontal Discs perform elegant, mysterious manoeuvres in the air above the viewer, circling in their suspended state, perfectly demonstrating the constant chance-fuelled dance that makes Calder's mobiles so constantly mesmerizing.

Seven Horizontal Discs was shown at Carré's gallery in the same year that it was created. The genesis of this exhibition provides an insight into Calder's mind and his popularity within the avant-garde on two sides of the Atlantic. The exhibition catalogue featured introductory essays both by the legendary curator and collector, James Johnson Sweeney, and by the French philosopher, Jean-Paul Sartre. The latter essay in particular was hugely popular and was reprinted the following year in translation, gaining a wider readership.

Sartre managed to evoke both the poetry and the self-sufficiency of Calder's mobiles in his essay: "A 'mobile,' one might say, is a little private celebration, an object defined by its movement and having no other existence," Sartre declared, in terms that linked Calder's works such as Seven Horizontal Discs to the philosopher's own existentialism.

"It is a flower that fades when it ceases to move, a 'pure play of movement' in the sense that we speak of a pure play of light... [M]ost of Calder's constructions are not imitative of nature; I know no less deceptive art than his. Sculpture suggests movement, painting suggests depth or light. A 'mobile' does not 'suggest' anything: it captures genuine living movements and shapes them. 'Mobiles' have no meaning, make you think of nothing but themselves. They are, that is all; they are absolutes. There is more of the unpredictable about them than in any other human creation. No human brain, not even their creator's, could possibly foresee all the complex combinations of which they are capable. A general destiny of movement is sketched for them, and then they are left to work it out for themselves. What they may do at a given moment will be determined by the time of day, the sun, the temperature or the wind. The object is thus always half way between the servility of a statue and the independence of natural events; each of its evolutions is the inspiration of a moment" (J.P. Sartre, "The Mobiles of Calder," Alexander Calder, exh.cat., Buchholz Gallery, New York, 1947).
This essay--and the reception of Calder's work--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, held at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, had 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 played a part in the genesis of Seven Horizontal Discs and of the Louis Carré show in which it featured. During that period, because of the importance of materials such as metal for the war effort, 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 playful and poetic resourcefulness and resilience. His works from this time, for instance Seven Horizontal Discs with its multitude of varied shapes, forms, and colors, are 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.

It was on seeing the works that Calder was creating in 1945, many of which were by necessity small, that his friend and fellow artist Marcel Duchamp suggested, "Let's mail these little objects to Carré and have a show" (M. Duchamp, quoted in "Chronology," www.calder.org). Intrigued by the possibility and already desperate to exhibit as soon as he could in the wake of the Second World War, Calder set about creating new works such as Seven Horizontal Discs, which he was able to dismantle and send by mail despite the stringent size restrictions imposed by the postal service at the time. The ingenuity of these pieces is demonstrated by the scale that some of them achieved, for instance the more-than-a-metre span of Seven Horizontal Discs, despite the partially self-imposed limitations of the postal rules.

In a sense, those restrictions provided an arbitrary system that inspired Calder, revealing an intriguing aspect of the cross-pollination of ideas between him and Duchamp that had begun over a decade earlier. For it was Duchamp who had initially dubbed Calder's revolutionary moving sculptures "Mobiles", when he had seen them for the first time in pre-war Paris. This was a punning title: as well as invoking the notion of motion, it was also the French word for "motive." This was a name that not only stuck, but also entered the English language.

Seven Horizontal Discs, with its various configurations of shapes of different colors, here a disc and there a fin, sometimes with constellation-like assemblages serving as elaborate punctuation marks at the end of one of the wire branches, also reveals its debt to Calder's original motives and inspiration in creating his "mobiles." It was not movement alone, but the movement of colored elements that fuelled him in the early years of this development, a perhaps surprising legacy of the Dutch artist Piet Mondrian. "My entrance into the field of abstract art came about as a result of a visit to the studio of Piet Mondrian in Paris in 1930," Calder would later recall. "I was particularly impressed by some rectangles of colour he had tacked on his wall in a pattern after his nature. I told him I would like to make it oscillate--he objected" (A. Calder, quoted in C. Giménez and A.S.C. Rower, ed., Calder: Gravity and Grace, London, 2004, p. 52).

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