Alexander Calder (1898-1976)
Property from the Estate of Shi-Liang Hsiang
Alexander Calder (1898-1976)

Untitled (Carousel)

Alexander Calder (1898-1976)
Untitled (Carousel)
signed with initals 'CA' (on the base)
standing mobile-painted sheet metal, painted wire, broken glass and string
28¼ x 32 x 32 in. (73 x 81.3 x 81.3 cm.)
Executed in 1942.
Pierre Matisse Gallery, New York
G. David Thompson, Pittsburgh
Harold Diamond, New York
Anon. sale; Sotheby's New York, 17 November 1999, lot 34
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner
Alexander Calder, The Museum of Modern Art, exh. cat., New York, 1943 (sketch illustrated on the endpapers of the catalogue).
New York, Pierre Matisse Gallery, Alexander Calder, May-June 1942.
New York, Nassau County Museum of Fine Art, The Long Island Collections: A Century of Art 1880-1980, 1982, p. 91, no. 136 (illustrated).

Lot Essay

This work is registered in the archives of the Calder Foundation, New York, under application number A18659.

Calder's standing mobiles are a marriage of his two signature sculptural innovations: the mobile and the stabile. The hybrid construction comprises a static, stabile base which supports an attachment of moving elements. With arms that are forever rising and falling under the weight of their jewel-like clusters, these creations recall organic forms such as trees laden with fruits and flowers.

Calder's radical innovations upended many of the traditional characteristics of sculpture. Stating that "art was too static to reflect a world of movement," he revolutionized the medium by injecting a heretofore unprecedented kinetic aspect to it. He eschewed the idea of a base, suspending his works from the ceiling (mobiles), or integrating his base into the composition (stabiles). Making his works out of planar and linear forms that were held together with wire, string and bolts, he defied the solidity associated with carved sculpture, making "drawings in space" that integrated a shifting, spacious openness into their composition. He used unorthodox materials that 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.

In the early 1940s, Calder began to make stunningly graceful three-legged standing mobiles that integrated solid shapes with linear, ethereal elements. Calder had embraced Surrealism as a young artist in Paris in the 1930s and it permeated his subsequent creations. This is evinced in the fluid, biomorphic shapes that seem to re-create in three-dimensions, the forms that populated the paintings of Joan Miró, whom Calder had met and befriended in Paris. The random, unpredictable fluctuations of Calder's sculptures also incorporated the Surrealist element of chance. A trained engineer, the artist stated, "Oh I know pretty well what will happen, but it's all 'cut and try,' and sometimes they surprise me" (A. Calder cited in J. Lipman, Calder's Universe, New York, 1976, p. 265).

Since metal was scarce during the War, Calder used found objects in his constructions in the 1940s. He shattered glass against his Roxbury barn or collected it on the beach where it was "eroded by sea and sand". The artist said of this practice, "I like broken glass on stems, old car parts, old spring beds, smashed tin cans, bits of brass imbedded in asphalt and I love pieces of red glass that come out of tail-lights" (A. Calder cited in M. Prather, Alexander Calder 1898-1976, New Haven and London, 1998, p. 231). The artist used the broken ends of bottles for the present lot.

The playfulness inherent in Untitled (Carousel) stems from Calder's earliest work, Circus of 1928. The title of the present lot indicates the recurrence of this theme, albeit in allusive abstract terms. The stabile portion of Untitled (Carousel) evokes both the central axis of a carousel and a striding horse that comprises one of its "seats", while the colored, reflective pieces of glass resemble the lights often attached to its canopy. The means of suspension and implied circular motion summon up visions of revolving carousels, with horses gracefully moving up and down to the gay musical rhythms of circus music. Cleverly evoking his subject in non-representational terms, Calder completely imbues this work with an unbridled sense of fun.

Revealing Calder's lifelong interest in toys, Untitled (Carousel) combines spontaneity, humor and gaiety and possesses a childish sense of wonder and innocence. Having a notoriously happy temperament for an artist, Calder said of his works, "I am not trying to make people happier by my work. But it happens that all those who have something of mine, painting, mobile or static statue, say that it makes them very happy. For example, children adore mobile statues and understand their meaning immediately" (A. Calder, Ibid, p. 54). Possesssing supreme elegance, Untitled (Carousel) is a supremely elegant sculpture with the heart of a child.

Photo by: Herbert Matter
[2477 2365]
2. Alexander Calder (book illustration)
) Estate of Alexander Calder/Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York
[2477 2396].
3. Alexander Calder in his Roxbury studio, 1944
Photo George Hoyningen-Huene
Courtesy Conde Nast Publications Inc., New York
[2477 2402]
4. Alexander Calder, Circus Scene, 1926
) Estate of Alexander Calder/Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York
[2477 2419]

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