This work is registered in the archives of the Calder Foundation, New York, under application number A02823.
Calder's Armada is an extraordinary mobile dating from 1945. It shows a steady progression, from axle to axle, of groups of shapes hanging according to the wind, the air pressure, the temperature, the movements of people--Armada shifts constantly according to the prompts of the environment around it.
The date of this work, as well as its title suggest that there is a military and historical theme to this piece. It was, after all, created the year that marks the end of the Second World War. Calder had spent much of his life in France, and so that nation's liberation must also have had an impact on him. Armada appears to be a celebration of the freedom and the peace that the end of war would bring. It is a moving, in two senses, tribute to past havoc and future joy, a factor increased by the work's gentle dignity.
Only a short time after this work was completed, Calder had an exhibition for which Jean-Paul Sartre wrote the preface. The existentialist explained the amazing potency of Calder's works by stating that 'Sculpture suggests movement, painting suggests depth or light. A "mobile" does not "suggest" anything: it captures genuine living movements and shapes them. "Mobiles" have no meaning, make you think of nothing but themselves. They are, that is all; they are absolutes' (Jean-Paul Sartre, 'The Mobiles of Calder', Alexander Calder, exh. cat., New York, 1947). It interacts with us and with our environment in a manner that was completely novel and pioneering.
Sartre, though, went too far in appropriating Calder's art as an extension of his own existentialist thought. Calder's art, even when abstract, often did contain some reference, suggestion or reflection of the real world.
The movement of Armada are the never-ending, always changing motions of the entirety of existence. Calder was in part inspired by antique moveable models of globes, solar systems and the cosmos. But where they were mere representations of the grander schemes suggested in their machinations, Calder has used chance to capture the very rhythms, creating something infinite, wondrous and universal in itself.
Alongside this universal and cosmic aspect to the works, there is a sense of a more personal resonance existing in Armada. The work reflects the end of war and is a celebration, yet at the same time sometimes the position of these shapes fleetingly resembles a gathering storm. This darkness, the title and the occasional feeling that the black shapes resemble ships sales, Zeppelins or bombs recall the war itself, and explore a feeling of foreboding. Through this, Calder manages to tap into the darker reality of the preceding years.
It would be wrong to dwell upon these brief moments of darkness either in Armada or in the wider context of Calder's work. Not only was black the most common color that he used in his art, but he was a notoriously happy person. Once, when asked if he ever experienced sadness, he replied, 'No. I don't have the time. When I think I might start to, I fall asleep. I conserve energy that way' (Calder, quoted in Lipman, op.cit, 1977, p. 32). Calder also preferred to create an art that translated joy rather than anything else, as was shown in his lifelong obsession with toys. Not only is there no room for representation in his mobiles, but there is also little room for anything other than poetry.
Joachim Patinir, c. 1485-1524, Portugese carracks off a rocky coast National Maritime Museum