In the 1940s and 1950s, the world stage for emerging art shifted from Europe to New York City, and Alexander Calder held the singular position of having worked among both the modernists in Paris in the late 1920s/early 1930s and the Abstract Expressionists in New York following his return to the United States in 1933. After the war, the dissemination of abstract art outside Manhattan was an equally dramatic endeavor led by a few intrepid gallerists. Hope Makler (1924-2013) was one of this breed of far-sighted individuals as she introduced avant-garde art to Philadelphia with an enthusiasm, intelligence and sense of style that was truly unique.
The distinctive Calder jewelry which highlights the Makler Family Collection captures this same sense of aesthetic audacity. For Calder, artistic invention also transcended categories and permeated every aspect of his life. He brought the same genius for design and motion to his jewelry that elevated his mobiles into a realm of singular innovation. Calder’s forays into jewelry began as early as 1929, mostly as gifts for intimate friends and family, particularly Louisa James whom he married in 1931. Eventually openings at his exhibitions were enlivened by women sporting select works from their collections of Calder jewelry. Hope Makler was just such a quintessential collector and wearer of the artist’s intimate and lively ornaments, and she embodied the same independent spirit that fashioned them.
Hope proudly displayed her intricate and intimate collection on her person and in her home, and the renowned Makler Family Collection of Calder Jewelry is the finest group of its kind to come to auction.
The pioneering Makler Gallery, opened by Hope in 1960 with the supportive participation of her husband Dr. Paul Todd Makler, brought mid-20th century art to Philadelphia through relationships with New York dealers such as Klaus and Dolly Perls, Arne Glimcher, Sidney Janis, Martha Jackson and André Emmerich. The Maklers populated many Philadelphia collections, as well as their own, with the work of Alexander Calder, David Smith, Anselm Kiefer, Jean Dubuffet, Louise Nevelson and Milton Avery among others.
As Hope stated in 1989, “[We] were in the right place at the right time. …We were very clearly defined in our outlook, our position, what we wanted to do, … the things we would be proud to offer, …” (Interview with Marina Pacini in the Oral History Collection of the Archives of American Art, November 28, 1989) Hope attended courses at the Barnes Foundation in 1956-57 and completed a master’s degree at the University of Pennsylvania in 1959. She ran the Makler Gallery with zest and sensibility until 1985, and Hope’s legacy includes her role as the first woman on the Executive Committee of the Art Dealers Association of America.
Klaus Perls was the Maklers’ first dealer acquaintance and they became the exclusive outlet in Philadelphia for artists of the Perls Galleries, chief among them, Alexander Calder whose family heritage was deeply embedded in Philadelphia cultural history. For Hope, relationships with artists added to the richness of life. “There was a kindness among the giants for me and for Paul that was simply extraordinary. There were personal kindnesses from such people as Jacques Lipchitz, Louise Nevelson, Alexander Calder, ...who went far beyond the bounds of artist/dealer relationships and were just wonderful human beings. They all came to our parties.” (Ibid) Calder’s most notable attendance at the Makler Gallery coincided with the Alexander Calder Festival in Philadelphia in October 1976. His grandfather’s statue of William Penn topped City Hall, and Calder’s own commission of a monumental mobile White Cascade at the Federal Reserve Bank was being dedicated at this time. A wonderful photo of the artist and Hope (arrayed in a magnificent Calder necklace, of course) memorializes the Makler Gallery exhibition that was part of the tribute to this native son.
Sotheby’s is proud to offer works from the Makler Family Collection this Fall, including two classic paintings by Anselm Kiefer (lots 498 and 502) and a rare wall mobile by Alexander Calder (lot 140). Yet Hope’s inimitable presence is most felt in her beloved Calder necklaces, brooches, earrings, bracelet and ring.
Calder was an inveterate and incurable tinkerer, never happier than with tools and material at hand, and this insatiable impulse to create – to make – is as evident in his jewelry as in his sculptures.
Initially, brass was more readily at hand in the war years, but soon Calder was able to also afford the more precious metals such as silver. The jewelry evolved from his wire sculptures, with a clear lineage between Calder’s portraits such as Josephine Baker and his spiral brooches, earrings and bracelets, as well as the shared whimsy of his fish mobiles and coiled fish earrings (lot 107). Calder’s sophistication in the silversmith craft grew and he soon hammered the wires into flattened forms that are the basis of his great spiral brooches, bracelet and elaborate necklaces in the Makler Family Collection.
Calder included found materials such as glass and pottery in mobiles and jewelry alike, and allusions to natural motifs such as flowers animated his sculptural necklaces as often as his sculptures. A few motifs exist solely in the jewelry, such as the figa good luck emblem of a hand with hooked finger which Calder encountered during a 1948 trip to Rio and used in brooches and hair combs (lot 116). Just as often, a fork or champagne corks would be repurposed into a sculpture or a pair of earrings (lot 116). Mobile elements bring a sense of organic movement into even the most diminutive of Calder’s sculptural inventions such as Spiral and Ten Brooch (lot 113) and Brooch (JOS) (lot 117). The grand silver Necklace (lot 101) which is the centerpiece of the collection is just as abstract, innovative, three-dimensional and kinetic as Calder’s sculptures, and just as strong a statement of Calder’s genius for line and balance as any hanging mobile.
During his lifetime, two dealer shows celebrated Calder’s commitment to the jewelry: the lovely brass necklace of concentric arcs and dangling spirals (lot 106) was featured both in the December 1940 Willard Gallery exhibition as well as the 1966 exhibition at Perls Galleries, along with Flower and Leaves Necklace (lot 103), Brooch (JOS) and Spiral and Ten Brooch. Many pieces of jewelry from the Makler Family Collection were also included or illustrated in the storied international exhibition, Calder Intime of 1989-1990, as well as the recent exhibition devoted solely to Calder jewelry in 2008-2009 and originating at the Norton Museum of Art in West Palm Beach. Fittingly the superb silver Necklace that graced the pages of Vogue as the epitome of design and glamour was a focal point within the museums – including the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York after a stop closer to home at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.