Mobile with Nine Petals is a superb example of Alexander Calder’s extraordinary ability to establish a balance between color, form and movement. Executed in 1963, the present work encapsulates Calder’s mastery of his own unique sculptural aesthetic. Although each of its nine petals hangs separately en plein air only connected by a stem-like wire, the work moves organically as a whole reacting to its surrounding environment. As the largest petal catches a slight breeze it activates the motion that encourages the other petals to move. One by one each jubilant, red handcrafted petal cautiously follows suit and the graceful ballet of Mobile with Nine Petals begins. Each petal, descending in size order, iterates but does not copy its larger counterpart. When carefully viewing the present work, Calder’s touch is apparent as each form diverges quirkily from the next. Confident and elegant, the mobile suspends before us and allures a viewer not only because of its compositional ingenuity but also due to its vibrant and dazzling color. Red, the artist’s favorite color, unifies the work and adds a tangible sense of joy to it. The truly breathtaking, Mobile with Nine Petals, divinely expresses the poetry, mastery of composition and form along with the visual and technical excellence that Calder had achieved at this point in his career over the course of more than three decades.
Alexander Calder transformed the course of 20th Century sculpture with his inventive, lively and poetic creations. Calder first reimagined sculptural boundaries with his groundbreaking, mechanized works. As early as 1932, Calder began to produce abstract sculptures that freely moved through space and used unconventional materials such as sheet metal for his creations. He showed these works for the first time at the Galerie Vignon in Paris in 1932 calling them “mobiles,” a term Marcel Duchamp used to describe the works a year earlier. In 1952, Calder received the Grand Prize in sculpture at the Venice Biennale for his innovations. By the middle of the 20th Century, Calder’s name had become synonymous with artistic originality and excellence, but he continued throughout his prolific career to revolutionize the ability of sculpture to connect with its environment and its viewer. Calder’s creative endeavors were widely varied but his most salient exploration and artistic achievements resulted from his deep desire to expand the possibilities of motion in sculpture.
Part of Calder’s ingenuity stemmed from a reaction against the artistic conventions of his time. As Jean Lipman writes in Calder’s Universe, "Calder has said that even before he visited Mondrian’s studio he 'felt that art was too static to reflect our world of movement.' Another time he said: 'I don’t know whether it was the moving toys in the circus which got me interested in the idea of motion as an art form or whether it was my training in engineering at Stevens'" (Jean Lipman, Calder’s Universe, New York 1976, p. 263). Indeed, in addition to the artistic climate of the mid-20th Century, both Calder’s fascination with the circus and his background as an engineer greatly influenced his work. The magic and genius of Calder lies in his ability to coalesce all of these influences to create dynamic yet truly beautiful works of art that surprise and delight our eyes as viewers.
Calder’s exploratory nature and zest for life evident in his work helped propel him to success. Although his practice departed from that of many of his contemporaries, Calder, inspired by the world around him, never hesitated to engage with other artists to expand his own works’ depth and in turn enriched theirs. Calder’s personal and professional relationship with Joan Miró lasted until the end of Calder’s life and was productive and inspiring for both artists. For the first twenty years of their friendship they collaborated on two significant public projects. First, for the Spanish Pavilion at the Paris World’s Fair in 1937 and then again ten years later for the Terrace Plaza Hotel in Cincinnati (Elizabeth Hutton Turner and Oliver Wick, Eds., Calder Miró, Basel 2004, p. 55). Both artists sought to defy artistic boundaries through achieving a new dimension to aesthetics. In Mobile with Nine Petals, Calder lends aesthetic form to alter an overall space. This desire to alter space and the way a viewer interacts with art was at the crux of the lifelong conversation between Calder and Miró. As Elizabeth Hutton Turner writes, “Calder and Miró’s friendship did not forge a movement, but their free-floating shapes fostered a new level of communication at the crossroads of physics and poetry. Like Calder, Miró knew that reality does not remain still long enough to be accurately mirrored as a fixed or solid projection onto the picture plane. From this shared understanding emerged a visual dialogue with lessons still valid today. Calder and Miró pointed the way to our increasingly interconnected world with its hybrid media. The two artists wanted to go beyond painting and sculpture, and we witness the new spaces opened by the creativity and the passion of their work, point to the future” (ibid., pp. 50-51). Indeed, Mobile with Nine Petals is a perfect example of this crossroads of physics and poetry that Turner describes.
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