This work is registered in the archives of the Calder Foundation, New York, under application number A13680.
Alexander Calder’s standing mobile Brass on Piano Legs, is an intimately-scaled sculpture which evokes the graceful majesty of the grand piano. Perching adroitly on three, elegantly curved legs, delicate thin red wire armatures extend outward into space, seeming to float on currents of air. Calder chose to place unpainted brass circles at the tips of the red wire mobile’s framework, making the whole work evocative of organic forms such as trees, blossoms, or fruit. Nine circular shapes glide at the tips of the armatures’ furthest extensions—these elements poised in lively equilibrium in relation to each other, deceptively simple shapes and streamlined forms. The scale of this particular work allows for close examination, which rewards the viewer by allowing them to savor the many small details that constitute the work. These include the delicate loops that Calder fashioned along the wire armatures, a simple but ingenious technique that allowed him to connect the armatures one to another, resulting in the stepped rows of horizontal wires hovering gloriously in mid-air.
Brass on Piano Legs expresses a sense of joy, spontaneity, ingenuity and wonder that place the artist’s works in a class by themselves and exemplifies the artist’s extraordinary ability to shape the simplest of materials into the most graceful and delightful results, unique achievements that are instantly recognizable. The industrial materials constituting this work are a forthright aspect of the sculptures’ identity, the artist crafting much of his work from non-traditional materials.
The black, sheet metal base is integrated into the total composition, an ingenious break from traditional sculpture, where the base is typically simply a supporting foundation, not otherwise contributing to the overall work. The work succeeds in merging the static and the dynamic: the solidity of the stabile base in contrast with the graceful, delicate wire extensions. Calder’s ability to accomplish that balance of opposites is one of the qualities that make this work extraordinary. In explaining the difference between the two forms, Calder said, “the mobile has actual movement in itself, while the stabile is back at the old painting idea of implied movement. You have to walk around a stabile or through it—a mobile dances in front of you” (A. Calder quoted in K. Kuh, The Artist's Voice: Talks with Seventeen Modern Artists, New York, 1999, p. 42).
Calder helped to change the trajectory of the medium of sculpture—from an emphasis on sculpture characterized by a heavy central mass, rooted to the earth, into new sculptural concepts that take flight and move through space. He paved the way for younger, mid-20th Century artists (John Chamberlain, Jean Tinguely, Robert Rauschenberg, Mark Di Suvero, Claes Oldenburg, and Jasper Johns, to name just a few) to pursue new methods and materials far beyond traditional boundaries. He coincided with Cubists, Constructivists, Surrealists, and other revolutionary movements, but without choosing sides among the various avant-garde strains, instead reinventing the many experimental and innovative approaches in his own personal idiom. That his work developed out of those radical times may help to explain why it still seems so fresh and vital up to the present day, decades after it was created.