Alexander Calder's Black Palette, Red Spike from 1947 is an exemplary standing mobile that marries its modules of metal into a spritely dance. The solidity found in the stark red and black forms is juxtaposed with the thin wire components, creating a perfect duality of substance and light, illustrating the artist's skillful use of the cut-out. Calder's Black Palette, Red Spike draws upon the same masterly balance of lyrical forms in Calder's monumental Lily of Force from 1947, created just two years earlier. The curvilinear black palette, which is so crucial to the ingenious balance of Lily of Force plays an equally important role in Black Palette, Red Spike, rooting its alluring appendages and grounding its balance of colors.
The 1940s marked a particularly fertile period in Calder's career as exemplified by Lily of Force and Black Palette, Red Spike. His work began to receive widespread attention in Europe and America with notable exhibitions of his work including at Galerie Louis Carré in Paris in 1946 as well as his retrospective of 1964-65 that traveled to the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York and the Museé National d'Art Moderne in Paris. Black Palette, Red Spike was exhibited widely in Europe as early as 1950, when it was selected for an important exhibition at Galerie Maeght in Paris.
Black Palette, Red Spike exemplifies Calder's ability to create levity and a sense of delicate whimsicality. It recalls both the humor of Dada and the alternative realities of the surreal. Drawing on the creativity of his Surrealist peers, Calder brings Surrealism into the third dimension with Black Palette, Red Spike. The influence of his close friend, Joan Miró, is evident in this piece as it enters a dialogue with the anthropomorphic tendencies of his Surrealist peer. Calder captures the same characteristics and spirit of Miró's "creatures," thereby breathing life into his sculptural renderings. In his traditional primary colors, Calder constructs intersecting wires and planes in a magnificent balancing act. These contrasting elements are fused together with wire, both rooting the structure into the ground, yet allowing its branch-like appendages to float upward. Jocularly, this sculpture defies gravity and balances in a seemingly impossible fashion.
Black Palette, Red Spike from 1947 marks a critical moment in the formative, early years of Calder's career. Of Calder's talent for pairing balance and motion, the New York art critic Henry McBride commented in the 1940s: "Calder [has the] ability to salvage from our unlikely modern materials an art form that sways in the breeze like a bamboo reed on a river bank" (H. McBride, 1943, quoted in J. Marter, Alexander Calder, Cambridge, 1991, p. 203). In fact, the white counterbalances of Black Palette, Red Spike oscillate with the slightest flurry of air yet never abandon their magically engineered equilibrium. Calder's capacity to render such grace and levity while utilizing harsh, industrial materials as illustrated in Black Palette, Red Spike, allows his sculptures to continue to challenge our conceptions of matter, and the way objects exist in space. Black Palette, Red Spike is not only remarkable as representative of Calder's pivotal work from the 1940s, but it beautifully encapsulates the whim, lyricism and form that distinguish Calder as a master sculptor of the 20th century.
This work is registered in the archives of the Calder Foundation, New York, under application number A05127.