This work is registered in the archives of the Calder Foundation, New York, under application number A00841.
The 1930s for Alexander Calder were the most innovative and fruitful years of his career. Mobile au plomb was created during this intense period of activity. It is one of the first purely abstract works that Calder produced and belongs to an important period of artistic breakthrough for the artist.
During this decade, the artist left behind his enormously popular circus and portrait wire sculptures and started creating abstract works that would bring much critical acclaim and commercial success. While based in Paris, Calder invented new forms of sculpture--the mobile, a term coined by Marcel Duchamp, and the stabile, by Hans (Jean) Arp--which were major contributions to the canon of 20th century sculpture. His work became internationally known, on both sides of the Atlantic, as a result of having solo exhibitions in Paris, New York, Madrid, Chicago, and London and numerous group shows. Calder was commissioned for a number of public projects including one for the International Exposition in Paris and a World's Fair in New York, and sets for ballets. Thus, the shift from figuration to abstraction for Calder had major, positive consequences.
One significant event that decided this shift was Calder's memorable visit to Mondrian's studio in Paris. In a letter to A.E. Gallatin in 1934, Calder was struck by the abstract rigor of the Neo-plastic interior: "a white wall, rather high, with rectangles of cardboard painted yellow, red, blue, black, and a variety of whites, tacked upon it so as to form a fine, big composition." He went on to recount how he suggested to Mondrian that it "would be fine if they could be made to oscillate in different directions and at different amplitudes" (Cited in M. Prather, Alexander Calder, Washington, D.C., National Gallery of Art, exh. cat., 1998, p. 57). It is an extraordinarily prescient response on Calder's part, whom at the present moment, had little or no interest in kinetic art.
At this time, Calder came into contact with the major proponents of European modernism. In 1931, he was invited to join the group "Abstraction-Création" by its members Duchamp, Arp, Ferdnand Léger, Robert Delaunay, and Jean Hélion. As one of their objectives, the group sought to promote the non-objective principles of Constructivism. Their adherence to a strict abstract discipline contrasted starkly with their rival group, the Surrealists. Although Calder held no political attachment by showing with both groups, his association with "Abstraction-Création" was crucial in further refining his abstract work and finding new ways to incorporate metal and wood elements in his constructions.
Mobile au plomb embodies such bold experimentation. Using a starkly elegant palette of black, white and red, Calder recalls Mondrian's use of primary colors and the Constructivist use of black, white and red. The individual elements, all shaped differently in two- and three-dimensions and fashioned in painted wood, lead and wire are suspended in a graceful balance of weight and counterweight. In a sense, the work resembled a planetary model of the universe. Calder described his work in terms of cosmic relationships: "the underlying sense of form in my work has been the system of the Universe, or part thereof. For that is a rather large model to work from. What I mean is that the idea of detached bodies floating in space, of different sizes and densities, perhaps of different colors and temperatures, and surrounded and interlarded with wisps of gaseous condition, and some at rest, while others move in peculiar manners, seems to me the ideal source of form" (Quoted in op. cit., p. 59).
Fig. 1 Alexander Calder, Movement in Space, 1932
National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
c 2002 Courtesy The Alexander and Luisa Calder Foundation/ARS, New York
Fig. 2 Installation photograph of Alexander Calder: Volumes-Vecteurs-Densités; Dessins-Portraits at Galerie Percier, Paris, 1931
c 2002 Courtesy The Alexander Calder and Luisa Calder Foundation/ARS, New York
Fig. 3 Calder in his Paris Studio, 14 rue de la Colonie, fall 1931
Photograph by Marc Vaux
c 2002 Courtesy The Alexander and Louisa Calder Foundation/ARS, New York