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


Alexander Calder (1898-1976)
signed with initials and dated 'CA 57' (on the smaller element)
standing mobile--painted sheet metal and wire
31½ x 36 x 50 in. (80 x 91.4 x 127 cm.)
Executed in 1957.
Staempfli Gallery, Inc., New York
Acquired from the above by the previous owner, 1960
By descent to the present owner

Lot Essay

This work is registered in the archives of the Calder Foundation, New York, under application number A15321.

With its dark, elegant, undulating curves counterbalanced by a series of colored disks cascading down from a central peak, Alexander Calder's magnificent Untitled is a heady concoction of grace and elegance brilliantly incorporating movement and color. Acquired in 1960, shortly after its creation for the venerable Staempfli Gallery in New York, the work has remained in the same family collection ever since and for many years was exhibited at the Indianapolis Musuem of Art.

Executed in 1957, Untitled presents the viewer with a gently oscillating progression of diminishing white discs. Suspended by thin wires, the delicate discs hover, balancing, on a base that rises and falls like the silhouette of a mountain range at sunset. This graceful and curving support, with its gentle slopes and high peaks, stretches out to provide an elegant foundation for the constellation of discs that dances above it.

Calder's use of irregular, biomorphic forms recalls the work of Miró, but the concepts and art of Mondrian made the most impact on him. Calder visited Mondrian's studio in 1930 and described how the experience transformed his understanding of abstract art; "This one visit gave me a shock that started things. Though I had often heard the word 'modern' before, I did not consciously know or feel the term 'abstract.' So now at thirty-two, I wanted to paint and work in the abstract" (A Calder, An Autobiography in Pictures, New York, 1966, p.113).

In Untitled, the deliberately restrained aesthetic of the various floating discs balancing on their base teeters on the brink of the formal, as Calder accentuates with the limited color palette. This recalls Mondrian's original influence, adding a sense of the abstract; yet this work clearly also relates to the orreries, the mechanical models of the planetary system, that had so long fascinated Calder. The planets, space and the stars act as the original model for these works. "The first impression I ever had was the cosmos, the planetary system. My mother used to say to me, 'But you don't know anything about the stars.' I'd say, 'No, I don't, but you can have an idea what they're like without knowing all about them and shaking hands with them'" (A. Calder, quoted in J. Lipman, Calder's Universe, London, 1977, p. 17).

The horizontal and curvaceous nature of Untitled gives the work a deeply sensual quality. Suggestive of the silhouette of a reclining nude, the serpentine outline replicates the curve of the hip and small of the back and injects the piece with an almost human quality and sense of scale. This piece beautifully encapsulates Calder's practice of introducing movement into his sculptures. His precise composition ensures that the elements elegantly sweep around the body. Delicately balanced on its base, the piece requires only the slightest breath of air to spring into life and send the disks dancing through the air.

In addition to movement, color was another key component in Calder's work. In Untitled he retains his signature black, red and white and crowns it off with a single golden yellow disk perched at the apex of the piece. Calder's color was not decorative, but an intrinsic part of the composition, each color used to distinguish the elements from each other. "I want things to be differentiated. Black and white are first - then red is next - and then I get sort of vague. It's really just for differentiation, but I love red so much that I almost want to paint everything red. I often wish that I had been a fauve in 1905." (A. Calder, Calder, London, 2004, p. 89)

While it conjures up many associations, Untitled is not fettered by any direct notion of representation. Instead, it interacts with its environment and its viewer, participating actively in the universe in its own right. A push or a gust will set its carefully balanced elements in motion, introducing that magical element of chance and movement that makes Calder's sculptures so fascinating. As he himself said, "When everything goes right a mobile is a piece of poetry that dances with the joy of life and surprises" (A. Calder, quoted in Ibid., p. 261).

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