This work is registered in the archives of the Calder Foundation, New York, under application number AO2356.
By the time this piece was created, Alexander Calder had established himself as an artist who had set new parameters for the definition of sculpture. The catalogue of The Art of Assemblage exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in 1961, for instance, cited Calder as a historical artist who had established the "tradition" of mobile constructions and who had set an example both for his kinetic works and for his frank use of industrial metals. The work of younger artists which combined assemblage with mechanical movement which were included in the exhibit were noted to reflect Calder's influence.
From 1960 Calder received numerous commissions for public works, both in the United States and abroad. In the '60s, the U.S. experienced a tremendous growth in the commissioning of large-scale sculptures for federal architecture projects and industrial complexes. Calder benefited from these circumstances, and his international reputation was bolstered. "Calder's commissions for monumental mobiles and stabiles during the 1960s indicated that he continued with his personal idiom while American art was changing dramatically" (J. Marter, Alexander Calder, Cambridge, 1991, p. 233).
In 1964, the year in which this mobile was created, Calder's artistic achievement was recognised by the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum's holding a major retrospective of his work. This retrospective later travelled to four other North American cities and, with changes, to Paris. The exhibit at the Guggenheim featured an installation on the ground floor and lower ramps of the museum, and has been claimed by many to be the most successful use ever made of the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed museum space. Calder's mobile Red Lily Pads, 1956, is illustrated in the catalogue for the Guggenheim exhibit, photographed from above the mobile as it was installed for the Guggenheim exhibit.
Three (Blacks)-Five (Whites)-Six (Reds), while smaller in scale, shares some features with this central piece of the 1964 retrospective: the elements of each are biomorphic but generally circular (and flat) in shape; the elements are positioned relatively parallel to the ground; and the height of the mobile is relatively short, giving the overall form of the mobile an expansive, flat shape. Such similarities are shared by the motorised mobile Red, Black and Blue, 1968, commissioned by American Airlines and installed with Calder's supervision at Love Field, Dallas (and since moved to the Dallas-Fort Worth Airport) which spans 35 feet. Such features distinguish these pieces from many of Calder's other mobiles which exhibit greater variety in the elements' biomorphic shape and greater variety in the angle with the ground at which they are suspended.
This by no means suggests lack of complexity in the construction of this mobile, however. Indeed, its mechanics are complex and display a great level of subtlety. While there is greater uniformity of shape and positioning of elements, the levels of movement in this mobile are multiple. As is the case with most of Calder's mobiles, the elements move through space as the wires from which they are suspended pivot; in the case of the mobile here, however, the individual elements move as well, in a quivering or trembling fashion, adding a further, more subtle dimension of motion. This extrapolation from Calder's more typical form of kinetic movement distinguishes this piece in the corpus of Calder's work in mobile form.
In 1951 Calder said: "My entrance into the field of abstract art came about as the result of a visit to the studio of Piet Mondrian in Paris in 1930. I was particularly impressed by some rectangles of color he had tacked on his wall in a pattern after his nature. I told him I would like to make them oscillate--he objected. I went home and tried to paint abstractly - but in two weeks I was back again among plastic materials. I think that at that time and practically ever since, 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 with wisps of gaseous condition, and some at rest, while others move in peculiar manners, seems to me the ideal source of form" (M. Glimcher cited in Calder, exh. cat. Fundació Joan Miró, Barcelona, 1997, pp. 180-181).