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Details & Cataloguing

Contemporary Art Evening Auction

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London

Alexander Calder
1898 - 1976
UNTITLED
signed with the artist's monogram and dated 62
painted metal hanging mobile
101.5 by 156cm.
40 by 61 3/8 in.
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This work is registered in the archives of the Calder Foundation, New York under application number A01674.

Provenance

Galerie Blanche, Stockholm (acquired directly from the artist in 1962)
Carl Gemzell, Stockholm (acquired directly from the above in 1962)
Sale: Christie's, London, Contemporary Art, 27 June 1996, Lot 35
Private Collection, Stockholm
Sale: Sotheby's, London, Contemporary Art Evening Auction, 1 July 2008, Lot 47
Acquired directly from the above by the present owner

Exhibited

Stockholm, Moderna Museet, Collection Carl Gemzell, 1995, p. 75, illustrated in colour
Stockholm, Moderna Museet, on temporary loan, 1995-96

Catalogue Note

Executed at the height of Alexander Calder's mature career, Untitled is paradigmatic of his exceptional sculptural dexterity and unique aesthetic of suspended forms, hanging and moving in a sublime metallic ballet of ever-changing composition. The individual painted metal sheets render the composite elements as discrete volumes of colour in space. The movement of these intensely bright and contrasting elements is determined by the air around them as they interact with their three-dimensional space. Renowned for their outstanding beauty and craftsmanship, the sculptures of Calder are testament to his technical skill, imaginative genius and talent for organic composition and in these respects the present work is outstanding.

Untitled truly embodies the artist's fully-evolved technique, style and artistic identity. Calder had been grappling with the questions of how to depict abstract forms in three-dimensional space since being in Paris in the 1930s. His resultant aesthetic dialect stemmed from the invention of new types of sculptural constructs that harmoniously integrated solid shapes with linear, ethereal elements. Calder attributed his decision to work in the abstract to his visit in October 1930 to Piet Mondrian's studio. Shortly following this cathartic encounter, Calder asked "Why must art be static? You look at an abstraction, sculptured or painted, an entirely exciting arrangement of planes, spheres, nuclei, entirely without meaning. It would be perfect but it is always still. The next step in sculpture is motion" (the artist in: 'Objects to Art Being Static, So He Keeps it in Motion', New York World-Telegram, 11 June, 1932). Thus his sculptures abandoned the domain of the plinth, which had traditionally elevated sculpture to a rarefied realm beyond the viewer, to leap into an indeterminate space that engaged the viewer directly in suspension.

Calder wielded his pliers with remarkable skill and ingenuity to forge revolutionary genres of sculpture that brought motion to his work with a vengeance. In 1932 Marcel Duchamp christened Calder's early mechanized wire works as 'mobiles', a term that would soon apply to Calder's hanging sculptures which did not require an engine to generate movement. Later Jean Arp coined the term 'stabiles': by breaking down the boundaries of existing sculpture, Calder's groundbreaking work required a new descriptive lexicon. Having revelled in the challenges of harmonizing sculptural design with technical concerns and site-specific parameters and winning the Grand Prize in sculpture at the Venice Biennale in 1952 for his innovative and ingenious use of sheet metal, Calder became consumed by the possibilities of three-dimensional movement via the hanging mobile format.

Calder intentionally reduced his palette, following the lead of Mondrian, primarily to black and white and strong primaries; calculating counterpoints in red, yellow, and blue, and conscious that colour relationships have a kinetic quality that adds a sense of weight and movement to individual pieces. In Untitled balance is struck between the various organic shapes by constantly evolving and rescinding colour-relationships, depending on the spatial relationships between the various sheets. White counterbalances black, or sets off the intense red: the lone blue shape anchors the vertical axis of the work, reflecting the verticality of the highest red shapes, whilst also providing a terminus to the cascading sequence of three yellow metal sails. As is reflective of his very best works, Untitled demonstrates Calder's capacity to orientate the movement of his mobiles according to both horizontal and vertical axes to heighten the sense of surface animation and adjustments between the bold hues. By piercing individual plates Calder has manipulated both the visual and physical weight of the mobile. As the artist explained "When I cut out my plates, I have two things in mind. I want them to be more alive, and I think about balance. Which explains the holes in the plates. The most important thing is that the mobile be able to catch the air. It has to be able to move" (the artist in: 'Hommage à Calder', in XXe siecle, Paris 1972, p. 98).

When he visited a 1946 exhibition of Calder's work in Paris, Jean-Paul Sartre described the amazing potency of the artist's mobiles: "Sculpture suggests movement, painting suggests depth or light. A 'mobile' does not 'suggest' anything; it captures genuine living movements and shapes them. 'Mobiles' have no meaning, make you think of nothing but themselves. They are, that is all; they are absolutes" (Jean-Paul Sartre in: Exhibition Catalogue, Paris, Galerie Louis Carré, Alexander Calder, 1946). However, despite Sartre's Existentialist view of Calder's work as devoid of any relative context, Calder himself acknowledged influences from the natural world. Leaves, branches, flowers, and animals serve as inspiration for Calder's abstract yet organic forms, and appear in many of the titles of his sculptures. Nevertheless, free of overt subject matter narrative content, Calder's mobiles interact with the viewer and their own environment in a completely innovative manner, much of their attraction being generated by their inherent physical properties. Asked to define his artistic approach, Calder again evoked the importance of his visit to Mondrian's studio: "Each thing I make has, according to its degree of success, a plastic quality, which includes many things – the mass or masses; the sinuosity; the contrast of black to white; the contrast of somberness to colour; whatever element of movement there is in the object, even its manner of suspension" (the artist cited in: Margaret Bruening, 'Calder mobiles and stabiles', in American Magazine of Art, no. 32, June 1939, p. 361). Untitled is a wonderful example of these "many things" and represents the very best features in balance, colour, design and movement of Calder's inspirational language of hanging sculpture.

Contemporary Art Evening Auction

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London