‘From the very beginnings of my abstract works, even when it might not have seemed so, I felt there was no better model for me to choose than the Universe... Spheres of different sizes, densities, colors and volumes, floating in space, traversing clouds, sprays of water, currents of air, viscosities and odors of the greatest variety and disparity’ (A. Calder, quoted in J. Lipman, Calder’s Universe, London, 1977, p. 18).
Executed in 1966, Montagne Pas Aiguë perfectly captures the succinct poetry of Alexander Calder’s art. Poised above a black stand evocative of the romantic silhouette of a mountain, a red disc hovers as though the rising sun, encircled by a constellation of white stars. Conditioned by the movement of the elements around it, the work encapsulates the union of sculptural form and the aesthetics of chance which Calder’s oeuvre so elegantly pursues.
Reflecting the grandeur of the natural world and the shimmering beauty of the cosmos, Montagne Pas Aiguë enters our consciousness as a terrestrial view. Pivoting over its mountainous frame, Calder’s circular discs evoke the celestial bodies that hover above the alpine territories of the Earth. The Surreal iconography of Calder’s great friend, Joan Miró resonates in this sublime landscape; both artists employed a deft and highly personal visual language that was capable of transporting the viewer into enchanted panoramas of their making. Calder and Miró first met in Paris in the 1920s where, with their almost dream-like art, they both became involved with the Surrealist movement. The artists remained friends throughout their lives, their work providing a compelling document of the visual dialogue in which they engaged. Indeed, in 2004 the Fondation Beyeler paid tribute to their lifelong friendship with the joint retrospective, Calder/Miro.
While Miró’s influence is palpable in the reduced vocabulary and eloquent simplicity of Calder’s distinctive forms, the use of pure, flat colour that resounds throughout his art finds its genesis in the work of Piet Mondrian, whose studio Calder had visited in 1930. Calder had been fascinated by the coloured rectangles which were attached to the walls of Mondrian’s studio. Struck by the concept of setting them in motion, Calder told Mondrian his idea, but the older artist disapproved. Nonetheless, Calder set about bringing his vision to fruition, resulting in mobiles such as Montagne Pas Aiguë.
Brilliantly articulating Calder’s goal of drawing together stillness and dynamic motion within a single artwork, the artist’s standing mobiles combine the kinetic energy of his suspended mobiles with the solid properties of his Stabiles. While the upper, mobile part of the sculpture is subject to a chance breeze or gentle vibration, the base is stable. Yet, in Montagne Pas Aiguë even the curved arc of the stabile element of the sculpture is imbued with a sense of movement, invoking the organic growth of the natural scenery that Calder’s beautiful sculpture captures so precisely. In this way, the work as a whole suggests the potential of movement, even in its exquisite immobility.
By 1966 Calder had become one of the greatest artists of his generation, and in the year of the present work’s execution he enjoyed exhibitions of his work across Europe and America. Indicative of the important role he held in contemporary culture, in February of that year he unveiled a monumental stabile to the United Nations in New York, called Peace, which portrayed his stance on the Vietnam war and Nuclear crisis. Portraying a vista of delightful serenity, Montagne Pas Aiguë speaks to Calder’s preoccupation at this time with the propagation of reconciliation and unanimity in the face of a restless world.