This work is registered in the archives of the Calder Foundation, New York, under application number A07928.
Moths III demonstrates Calder's interest in the work of the surrealist artists Jean Arp, Yves Tanguy and Joan Miró. Arp and Calder had worked in Paris in the early 1950's when they were both involved with the Abstraction-Creation group that blended the ideas of surrealism and abstraction. Much like Arp's work of the early 1940s, Moths III looks to not be entirely man-made. The rigid geometric shapes and lines of his works of the 1930s and early 1940s seem to give way to more fluid forms. Pure white cloud forms and wings appear in the different elements of this work much like the shapes that come from the depth of surrealist tableaux.
The idea of a moth is reflected beyond the title in the formal qualities of this work. It both stands on ground and flies freely through the air; this metamorphosis from sculpture to mobile could be the transformation from caterpillar to moth.
Moths III represents a return to the metal and wire constructions that Calder had worked with in the early 1930s while in Paris. He pushes aside the more bulky and less malleable media of stone and wood that he had come to use in the 1940s and replaces them with painted metal plates. This material works perfectly for these curvilinear shapes as the artist once again gains complete control of his final product. He can bend arcs and cut holes at will and not be confined by the natural tendencies of grainy wood.
As the kinetic work moves it takes on almost-living qualities. Not only does the entire piece twist as a whole, but each individual piece gently flaps like moth wings. This dance of shapes between the moths brings about new combinations of forms at any given moment. The work swings gently on its axis, but does not stray too far in either direction - much like moths fluttering around a summer lantern. The color white can be both a symbol of innocence, but also a symbol for purity and grace. As the metal elements stretch out and diminish in size, it appears as if a bridal veil is blowing in the wind. Once again, it is the air that supports the wings or the veil, the unseen force lying between the hard shapes that is underlined by the slow movement of the elements.
Fig. 1 Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, Photogramme, c. 1925, Offentliche Kunstsamlung, Bale Kupferstichkabinett