This work is registered in the archives of the Calder Foundation, New York, under application number A04958.
Alexander Calder’s Slender Legs is a magnificent example of the artist’s larger-scale sculptures, capturing both the detailed nuances of his iconic mobiles while hinting at the monumental scope of his larger public commissions. The body, artfully composed of two pale, almost sky-blue, legs, and a third in a deeper red, presents a dynamic stance that is at once powerful and delicate thanks to this masterful use of color. Springing up from this base is a gestural mobile extension, which, with its polished steel surface, seamlessly blends magically into its environment, and hint at reflections of the viewing space around it. The mobile portion is delicately balanced between single strong triangular elements at one end, and a stem of four smaller, sharply angled triangles that reach out beyond the sculpture’s base, as if looking to the horizon and the sky. Created in 1959, Slender Legs is part of the evolution from his smaller, intimate works to larger monumental and outdoor sculptures. Calder himself noted this shift in a statement on his work the following year, remarking that “there’s been an agrandissement in my work” (M. Prather, Alexander Calder 1898-1976, p. 279). Indeed, the mobile’s reaching arms and confident pose all call to mind this literal extension of the artist’s vision, as he sought to take his expression to new levels of scale and environment.
Slender Legs evokes the graceful movement of a dancer: it is both strong and graceful, solidly planted on the ground while reaching outwards in an elongated arabesque. This lyrical expression is something we know Calder felt keenly in devising his mobile works, of which he once said: “To most people who look at a mobile, it’s not more than a series of flat objects that move. To a few, though, it may be poetry. I feel there’s a greater scope for the imagination in work that can’t be pinpointed to any specific emotion. That is the limitation of representational sculpture. You’re often enclosed by the emotion, stopped” (A. Calder, quoted in M. Prather, Alexander Calder: 1898- 1976, pp. 282-283). This poetic balance touches the implied movement of the base and the actual movement of the mobile segment as much as the overall balance of form, colors, and materials. Movement has always been a key element of Calder’s oeuvre, and what gives a work of this scale and composition its rare poetic grace is the fact that there is not only movement in the work itself, but also in the space it occupies. It asks its viewer to become part of the physical space it occupies, and see his or herself in relation to this figure.
What distinguishes Slender Legs from other works of this scale is Calder’s signature color palette. While drawing clearly from his love of classic primary colors along with black and white, here he seems to have extended the language of color in his work. With Slender Legs, he remains true to his celebrated color scheme but elevates it by emphasizing a paler blue and deeper red at the base of the sculpture, leaving the metal leaves in the mobile arm portion as polished but unpainted sheet metal. This subtle shift in color imbues the work with a decidedly modern and almost minimal aesthetic while still adhering to the purity of Calder’s trademark style. This light, celestial blue, coupled with the deep red, also provides a greater contrast in tone and a beautiful balance of soft light and deep hues that make up the core of the work. Leaving the mobile portion unpainted, highlighting its natural steel, serves to make the upper portion of the work appear all the more light and airy as a result.
Completed at the end of the 1950s, Slender Legs was executed during a pivotal period in Calder’s career, in which he had recently completed major commissions such as the The Whirling Ear, created on the occasion of the 1958 Brussels World Fair, or Spirale, which was commissioned for the new UNE SCO headquarters in Paris, also in 1958, the latter bearing clear similarities to the present work. While Spirale’s all-black color scheme and larger scale clearly suit the monumental function of the work, the overall essence of the two sculptures is very similar. What these two works have in common is their overall composition, a body that it is strong and graceful, coupled with a mobile that springs up from its apex. Slender Legs then, completed one year following this major work, can be seen as part of the artist’s ongoing evolution with this delicate balance between a stable base and a mobile top. Indeed, in the early 1960s, a few years after this work was complete, we see Calder continuing with this theme in many of his most important monumental sculptures.
Throughout his career, Calder constantly innovated and experimented with his core ideals of motion, space, form, and color. Slender Legs bears witness to this evolution, where the sculpture pulls from the artist’s past traditions while pointing to his future endeavors. True to his visionary style, this work expertly showcases Calder’s fascination with both the formal elements of his art and the intangible effect each work he created had on its environment and to his viewers. Always shifting, whether through movement or the viewer’s own perspective, Slender Legs is alive with a dynamic force and energy that reverberates beyond its physical space as it reaches beyond convention.