This work is registered in the archives of the Calder Foundation, New York, under application number A05541.
'Calder still spent days at his workbench cutting, bending, and assembling the objects himself…When [he] was not busy traveling or creating new work during these last decades, he was receiving numerous awards or arranging one of his many exhibitions' -Maria Prather, National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.
'These movements that intend only to please, to enchant our eyes, have nonetheless a profound and, as it
were, metaphysical meaning. This is because the mobiles have to have some source of mobility. In the past,
Calder drove them with an electric motor. Now he abandons them in the wild: in a garden, by an open
window he lets them vibrate in the wind like Aeolian harps. They feed on the air, breathe it and take their
life from the indistinct life of the atmosphere' -Jean Paul Sartre
Red and Yellow Forward is a celebrated example of the art form Alexander Calder himself invented, the kinetic and light-as-a-feather aerial sculptures called mobiles: it is a polychrome work consisting of eleven delicately balanced circles and biomorphic shapes, designed and worked by hand, suspended by fine wire armatures. Calder placed the smaller red, blue, and yellow forms of Red and Yellow Forward at the top and forefront of the work to offset what he considered the strongest colors, namely black and white, which here occupy the center of the mobile’s composition. The vivid red lines of the armature together with the contours of the circles and biomorphic shapes of Red and Yellow Forward suggest freehand drawings made material and three dimensional, conveying an impression that they were “drawn” in space. The polychromatic character of Red and Yellow Forward is an immediately recognizable and delightful feature to be found in many of Calder’s works, consistent with his ideas about the use of color to attain a dynamic asymmetry.
Calder created Red and Yellow Forward during the year immediately following a major, late-career retrospective organized by the Guggenheim Museum, New York in 1964. This mature work was produced in the context of an enormously productive late phase in his career during which Calder produced monumental outdoor mobiles and stabiles as well as more intimate works such as the current example. Calder’s “total production [during this last phase of his career]—representing sculptures in a range of scales and types—was, as always, staggering, and it continued unabated until the end of his life…Calder still spent days at his workbench cutting, bending, and assembling the objects himself…When [he] was not busy traveling or creating new work during these last decades, he was receiving numerous awards or arranging one of his many exhibitions” (M. Prather, Alexander Calder 1898-1976, exh. cat., National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C., 1998. p. 280).
Calder used the term “disparity” to describe how he employed carefully chosen color combinations to create a powerful tension in his mobiles, evident in Red and Yellow Forward. “To me the most important thing in composition is disparity,” Calder noted. “Thus black and white are the strong colors, with a spot of red to mark the other corner of a triangle which is by no means equilateral, isosceles, or right. To vary this still further use yellow, then, later, blue. Anything suggestive of symmetry is decidedly undesirable, except possibly where an approximate symmetry is used in a detail” (A. Calder, “A Propos of Measuring a Mobile,” Manuscript, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, 1943; http://www.calder.org/life/system/downloads/1943-A-Propos.pdf [accessed 9/14/15]).
With his mobiles, Calder helped to change the trajectory of the medium of sculpture—from an emphasis on sculpture that is characterized by a heavy central mass, rooted to the earth, toward new sculptural concepts that take flight and move through space. In contrast with traditional sculpture, Calder’s mobiles do away with the base or pedestal a sculpture would typically have, are unbounded by gravity, and extend dynamically into space. The mobiles are utterly fascinating and charming creations that move in response to touch or to subtle, random currents of air. Movement is so central to Calder’s oeuvre that art historians consider it to be the primary force that defines his efforts. “By its very nature, the mobile has no fixed form, no ultimate or ideal state, but exists as a sequence of motions that, cumulatively, make up an open-ended composition in a state of constant change” (M. Prather, Alexander Calder 1898-1976, Washington D.C., 1998. p. 138).
During Alexander Calder’s six-decade long career he created art works in a spectacular range of styles, including wire sculptures, carved figures, bronzes, wall sculptures, works on paper, paintings, stabiles, and more. He was first and foremost a sculptor, but a sculptor who made a unique contribution, inventing an entirely new kind of sculptural concept whose overriding statement was that of motion. 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. Calder began his career in the first decades of the 20th Century, a time of dramatic upheaval in the art world, when revolutionary methods, materials, concepts, and ways of experiencing and understanding art were breaking through. He synthesized ideas originating with Cubists, Constructivists, Surrealists, and other revolutionary movements but without choosing sides among the various avant-garde strains, instead translating the many experimental and innovative approaches into 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. He dedicated his career to Modernism and abstraction, yet he wanted his work to be accessible to the widest possible audiences and for this reason he avoided obscure symbolism. His interest in astronomical models and cosmic imagery lends his work a feeling both of dynamism and harmony, qualities that viewers will instantly recognize and appreciate.