Alexander Calder (1898-1976)
Property of an Important Western Collection
Alexander Calder (1898-1976)

Sign Writers' Red

Alexander Calder (1898-1976)
Sign Writers' Red
hanging mobile--painted sheet metal and wire
21 x 46 in. (53.3 x 116.8 cm.)
Executed in 1946.
Galerie Louis Carrée et Cie., Paris, 1946
E.V. Thaw Gallery, New York
James Goodman Gallery, New York
Private collection, New York
Robert Miller Gallery, New York
Edward Tyler Nahem Fine Art, New York, 1989
Private collection, Texas, 1989
Private collection, Dallas, 1997
Edward Tyler Nahem Fine Art, New York, 1997
Joseph Hellman Gallery, 1997
Private collection, Denver, 1997
Acquired from the above by the present owner
Alexander Calder: Mobiles, Stabiles, Constellations, exh. cat., Paris, Galerie Louis Carré, 1946, no. 20.

Lot Essay

This work is registered in the archives of the Calder Foundation, New York, under application number A02824.

Balancing in perfect harmony with one another, the individual crimson discs of Alexander Calder's 1946 mobile Sign Writers' Red extend gracefully through their outstretched limbs. The work's subtle movement complements its delicate elements, as they shift ever so slightly with a passing breeze, showing off Calder's remarkable prowess in understanding the construction of weight and balance. The modeling of this piece came at a crucial point in the artist's career, as he anxiously was anticipating his return to Paris after his protracted absence during World War II. Calder had been enjoying a prolific career since his return to the United States yet he nonetheless hankered to return to Paris, the naissance of his artistic life. Part of an entire series of mobiles to be presented in the now-famous 1946 Galerie Louis Carré exhibition, Mobiles, Stabiles, Constellations, Sign Writers' Red is an exquisite specimen from this personally impactful moment in Calder's oeuvre.

Calder was eager to return to Paris once the war was over, and by the spring of 1946 the artist had already initiated conversations with friends in Paris to plan his impending exhibition. Calder wished to symbolically link the work that he had done in his Roxbury studio to this new chapter of his artistic life in Paris. While the show was in its preliminary planning stages, Marcel Duchamp, a close friend of Calder's, fortuitously visited the artist at Roxbury. Duchamp was immediately taken by a group of intimate mobiles that Calder had constructed from scrap metal, his only source of material during the metal shortages of the war. Devising a plan in which to transport Calder's works to the Paris for the show, Duchamp proposed to simply mail these easily portable mobiles, including Sign Writers' Red. Quite taken by the idea, Calder proceeded to disassemble these works in order for them to fit within parcels measuring eighteen by ten by two inches each, gradually shipping them overseas. Due to explicit export rules, Calder was required to assign a different sender's name to each package, so he called on the help of his friends, including James Johnson Sweeney, Yves Tanguy, and André Masson.

The 1946 Galerie Louis Carré exhibition remains one of the most crucial in Calder's career. Not only did this serve as Calder's glorious return to Paris, but also was one of the most noteworthy exhibitions of the artist's hanging mobiles to date. In addition to Sign Writers' Red, Calder also exhibited the intricate standing mobiles, Lily of Force and Baby Flat Top, which revolutionized the way the artist envisioned the concept of his mobiles. The show also served as an opportunity for Calder to collaborate with his friends: Brassaí, to document the event, and Jean-Paul Sartre to compose the catalogue essay. The resultant essays presented one of the most profound and lyrical analyses of the artist's work: "[Calder's] mobiles signify nothing, refer to nothing but themselves: they are, that is all; they are absolutes...the objects always inhabit a half-way station between the servility of a statue and the independence of unique as ephemeral as the sky or the morning" (J.P. Sartre, quoted in A. Rower, Alexander Calder: 1898-1976, exh. cat., National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1998, p. 229). Sign Writers' Red perfectly epitomizes Calder's brilliant spirit in 1946. An example of the delicacy and care with which the artist could create his mobiles, the present lot is an avatar for Calder's divine abilities to conjure movement from simple bends and twists of metal.

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