This work is registered in the archives of the Calder Foundation, New York, under application number A02763.
Constellations (Duck) is from an important series of twenty-nine Calder sculptures executed between 1942 and 1943. They are marked by the use of hand-carved wooden forms, combined with wire to create wall-mounted, hanging and in the present lot, freestanding sculpture. Calder's use of wood was both an aesthetic choice and a byproduct of the dearth of available metal during World War II. As Calder noted, "aluminum was being used up in airplanes and becoming scarce. I cut up my aluminum boat. I also devised a new form of art consisting of small bits of hardwood carved into shapes" (A. Calder, An Autobiography with Pictures, New York, 1966, p. 179).
The shifting forms of the present work mimics planetary orbits and subatomic structures, which are connected by wire like some kind of Surrealist science project. The forms also suggest a playful, abstracted creature that appears to lunge forward, its red bill leading the way, while its wings swing outward, reminding one that humor as well as formal inventiveness, is a trademark of Calder's oeuvre.
Surrealism's heady years of the late 1920's and 1930's made a strong impact on Calder, who lived sporadically in Paris since 1926, the birthplace and center of that movement. Celestial bodies allowed Surrealists to experiment with abstraction, yet still maintain some roots in subject matter. Joan Miró and Jean Arp, whom Calder knew personally, created their own earlier Constellations series and the forms in Yves Tanguy's Surreal "moonscapes" and Picasso's open wire constructions appear to have played a role in Calder's work from the outset. What distinguishes Calder's Constellations are their poignant delicacy and whimsical charm that make them among the most compelling sculptures of the 1940's.
Fig. 1 Joan Miró, The Great Escape, 1940
Museum of Modern Art, New York
c 2002 ARS New York