This work is registered in the archives of the Calder Foundation, New York, under application number A17733.
‘When everything goes right a mobile is a piece of poetry that dances with the joy of life and surprises’
(A. Calder, in Calder, London 2004, p. 261).
Executed in 1954, Untitled is an enticing example of Alexander Calder's sculptures, a distinct body of work beautifully fusing two of the artist’s most celebrated and sought after forms, his graceful mobiles and more substantial stabiles. Created on an intimate scale, whereby the hand of the artist and his direct manipulation of the materials can be felt, this work encapsulates the rare combination of kinetic lyricism and sense of play that the acclaimed artist brought into the realm of sculpture. Three yellow tendrils soar dramatically upwards a single point, upon which is perched a horizontal, black, sensuously arched brass segment; its thick curled end providing the counter-weight to the opposite variety of smaller, subsidiary, red-disked mobiles. Untitled thereby fully demonstrates Calder’s unparalleled achievement of creating a seeming effortless equilibrium between the materiality of the sculpture, and the delicate, harmonious balance he realised in his use of it. The smaller scale of these works mean that the viewer is able to navigate the viewing experience with ease, looking around, up, or down into the design, examining every detail, from smooth surfaces and lines to a closer inspection of the act of making that is apparent in the finer details. Sensitive to the most minimal touch or breeze, these delicate mobiles gracefully glide through mid-air – producing a kinetic effect and shadow play that delights and amazes as it becomes a symphony of movement and joy.
Composing these delicate configurations was a process that took time and consideration, and using his skills as an engineer, Calder artist manages to combine a number of complex visual and mechanical arrangements into an object that radiates with aesthetic and technical virtuosity. ‘I begin at the small ends,’ he said, ‘then balance in progression until I think I've found the point of support. This is crucial, as there is only one such point and it must be right if the object is to hang or pivot freely’ (A. Calder, quoted in M. Prather (ed.), Alexander Calder: 1989-1976, exh. cat., National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1998, p. 232). With its red, yellow and black elements, Untitled testifies to the inspiration Calder found in the reductive abstraction of Piet Mondrian, whilst simultaneously playfully subverting it. It was indeed upon visiting Mondrian’s studio in 1930 that Calder reached his epiphany, ‘why must sculpture be static? You look at abstraction, sculptured or painted, an entirely exciting arrangement of planes, nuclei, entirely without meaning. It would be perfect but it is always still. The next step is sculpture in motion’ (A. Calder in M. Prather, Alexander Calder 1898-1976, Washington, D.C. 1998, p. 57). This statement by the artist on the nature of abstraction became one of the most famous of his generation. Reinventing a genre that was previously defined by its static nature, Calder subverts the rigour of Mondrian’s primary colours with a delicacy and playfulness that aligns it perhaps more closely to his friend and contemporary Joan Miró – giving rise to mobile sculptures that elegantly challenge conventional distinctions between sculpture and painting. With its enticing mixture of hard and soft lines, bold use of color and unparalleled kinetic qualities, Untitled presents itself to us as an enticing embodiment of Calder's influential artistic practice.