I want to make things that are fun to look at.
– Alexander Calder
Alexander Calder’s radical innovations upended many of the traditional characteristics of sculpture, revolutionizing the medium by injecting a previously unprecedented kinetic aspect to it. Calder eschewed the idea of a base, suspending his works from the ceilings in his well-known mobiles, or integrating the base into the composition as seen in his standing mobiles. His use of unorthodox materials heralded the modern age: works created with relatively light, high-tensile industrial metals enabled movement and departed from conventional materials such as stone, bronze and wood. Triangles and Arches is an exquisite example of the artist’s unique combination of artistic and technical skill.
The present work, conceived in 1965, coincided with the height of Calder’s creative output and the pinnacle of his prominence. After a series of critically acclaimed retrospectives at the Tate in London (1962), the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum (1964), and the Musée National d’Art Moderne in Paris (1965), Calder was as busy as ever. His studio bustled with activity seven days a week as he sat at his workbench cutting and constructing small scale sculptures. These maquettes were his retreat, a place to study the dynamics of color and shape that readily appealed to himself. This format resulted in some of Calder’s most majestic and structurally rigorous works. “If a plate seems flimsy,” Calder commented, “I put a rib on it, and if the relationship between the two plates is not rigid, I put a gusset between them… How to construct them changes with each piece; you invent the bracing as you go, depending on the form of each object” (A. Calder, quoted in M. Prather, Alexander Calder 1898-1976, Washington, 1998, p. 281). The fabrication, engineering and artistry that went into each work was crucial to Calder’s rationale. The regimented lines of bolts and braces were as essential to his visual aesthetic as the elegant and graceful curves. As such, Triangles and Arches finds Calder persisting in his self-issued directive to explore the relationship between form and the space surrounding it.
Around this time, Calder declared the importance of his monumental stabiles: “There has been an aggrandizement in my work. It’s true that I’ve more or less retired from the 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., Washington, D.C., 1998, p. 279). As with the subject lot, Calder used smaller sculptures as guides and was able to fluently complete his elevated, steel monuments; thus, while at a height of 19 3/8 inches, Triangles and Arches will forever insinuate its conversion to an immense scale.
Outdoor sculpture has always been an important part of Calder’s oeuvre. The monumental counterpart to this maquette has stood proudly at the south pool of the Empire State Plaza in Albany, New York. Measuring 19 feet by 30 feet this large scale sculpture was acquired by then Governor Nelson A. Rockefeller as part of an extensive art collection on display at the State Capitol complex. Whether designing for a private sculpture garden or an open urban space, Calder excelled in the challenges of matching sculpture with its environment. He succulently and famously said to an interviewer shortly before his death, “I want to make things that are fun to look at” (A. Calder as quoted in M. Prather, Alexander Calder: 1898-1976, exh. cat., Washington, D.C., 1998, P. 279). Calder completely imbues this work with an unbridled sense of fun and his predilection for working directly with metal is evident in the work’s liveliness. By liberating sculpture from the traditional confines of the pedestal in favor of a new, expressionist form, Calder firmly cements himself as an artist who, in effect, invented his own art form.