This work is registered in the archives of the Calder Foundation, New York, under application number A07860.
"When everything goes right a mobile is a piece of poetry that dances with the joy of life and surprises" (A. Calder, quoted in J. Lipman, Calder's Universe, London, 1977, p. 261).
In Over the Long Black Tail, Alexander Calder gracefully balances a colorful mobile on a standing base by means of a long, horizontal cantilever. This 1966 sculpture, with its structurally-perplexing arrangement, recalls Calder's early training as an engineer before turning exclusively to art in the early 1920s. Its playful title is characteristic of Calder's work, which is often infused with an element of imagination and whimsy. Having already experimented with animal forms in Cirque Calder, his small-scale performance piece whose cast of characters are sculpted from wood, wire and cloth, Calder brought a more abstract sensibility to the mobile. The genius of Over the Long Black Tail lies in its figurative and titular ambiguity: Calder abstracts its overall shape so that only the curved black base appears animal-like, while the "black tail" in the title could refer to any fantastical creature. Thus, his title is especially important to spark-- but not limit-- the viewer's imagination. With simple shapes and streamlined construction, Calder creates multiple movements that respond to the slightest breeze. In reference his dynamic sculptures, the artist writes, "Therefore, why not plastic forms in motion? Not a simple translatory or rotary motion but several motions of different types, speeds and amplitudes composing to make a resultant whole. Just as one can compose colors, or forms, so one can compose motions" (A. Calder, Modern Painting and Sculpture, exh. cat., Berkshire Museum, Pittsfield, 1933).
The artist was heavily influenced by Miró and Duchamp, and the Surrealist and Dada influence can be seen throughout Calder's stabile: the mobile's form itself is governed by chance encounters of wind and movement, while its long, softly bent cantilever resembles one of his organic, found objects. Structurally, however, Over the Long Black Tail proclaims itself as a product of the artist's mature period. Constructed in the height of Calder large-scale commissions, Over the Long Black Tail's extreme horizontality is clearly informed by the artist's turn towards monumental works. 1966 proved to be a prolific year for Calder: that same year, the artist produced the Walker Art Center's monumental standing mobile The Spinner and La Grande Voile, the thirty-ton stabile installed on the campus of Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Both large works correspond to Over the Long Black Tail in their shared graphic and chromatic clarity. In light of Calder's focus on larger works, the artist's careful execution of Over the Long Black Tail distinguishes it as an important structural investigation in its own right. Its effortless ability to balance an asymmetrical mobile on a slim, graceful cantilever marks Over the Long Black Tail as a standout later work.