“Although Calder was not quite the first or the last artist to set sculpture in motion, he sent volumes moving through space with more conviction and imaginative power – with more eloquence and elegance – than any other artist has. These are the works of a poet, but a poet guided by the steady instincts of a scientist.” (Jed Perl, “Sensibility and Science” in Exh. Cat., Los Angeles, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Calder and Abstraction, from Avant-Garde to Iconic, 2013, p. 36)
Alexander Calder’s irresistible mobile Red Flowers exquisitely embodies the beautiful poetry, humorous wit, brilliant color, balletic precision, and compositional verve that earned Calder critical and popular accolades for decades and established him as one of the greatest masters of the sculptural tradition in the history of Western art. Created in 1954, Red Flowers captures the breadth of Calder’s fertile creativity, encompassing both bravado in its dazzling color and delicacy in its configuration. Executed at the very height of Calder’s critical and commercial aplomb, this spectacular mobile comprises the absolute essentials of Calder’s inimitable groundbreaking aesthetic expressed through the captivating and seductive monochrome red. As with the greatest mobiles of the 1950s that Calder produced, Red Flowers is wonderfully complex in the variety of its discrete constellations of elements and its diversity of movement.
Oscillating harmoniously, the solid forms and cut-out shapes of Red Flowers are fully integrated with the linear outlines and wires that map its geometric trajectory. In the late 1940s Calder began piercing certain components of his mobiles in an effort both to heighten their transparency and surface animation and, to a more technical end, adjust the physical and visual weight of the work as a whole. Calder stated: “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 1959, cited in XXE siècle, Homage à Calder, Paris, 1972, p. 98) The pierced red elements and discretely angular shapes are suspended in perfect counterbalance to one another in Red Flowers; as the slightest breath of air drifts through their apertures they begin to rotate smoothly and organically, in turn inspiring movement in the smaller leaves and discs that surround them. Branching out in a variety of directions that move independently when activated en plein air, Red Flowers is transformed into one of the most animated and lively mobiles in Calder’s corpus, taking full possession of the surrounding space as well as commandeering time as a fourth dimension in its own right. In a state of constant evolution, the bottom elements swing and sway in embracing, circular motions, altering the composition presented to the viewer from every angle and from moment to moment. It is a sculpture that gracefully and unpredictably moves within a given space, and fully celebrates Calder’s grand achievement in bringing sculpture off the pedestal and into the environment of the viewer.
In spite of Calder’s turn toward total abstraction, Red Flowers testifies that the artist's genius for organic form assured that figuration and the lush dynamism of nature did not disappear from his work following his early figurative wire sculpture. Infused with his innate gift for engineering and his keen appreciation for nature and all its creatures, Calder’s mobiles are often populated with suggestions of living flora and fauna, akin to the Surrealism of his close friend and fellow artist, Joan Miró. Red Flowers arrived at the head of the 29 vine-related Sumac sculptures in Calder’s oeuvre, but is wholly unique in its execution. Leaves, flowers, and sinuous vines had long been a delicately seductive influence on the undulating lines of Calder's mobiles, and Red Flowers is paradigmatic of this motif that combines Calder's proclivities toward the organic and the architectonic. Here, a diverse array of thrilling cut-outs punctuate the individual leaves that spin in ideal harmony, each form uniquely transforming the space through which it glides. Furthermore, wires twist and curl in various directions, acting not only as branches for the metal elements but as imaginative sculptural components in their own right, reminiscent of the artist’s earliest work. Recalling the surreal whimsy of Henri Matisse, Calder generated an art form that blurred the earthly with the truly abstract.
Furthermore, these qualities in Red Flowers speak to the affinity between Calder and his life-long friend Miró, whom he met in Paris in 1928. In fact, the present work was first exhibited at Perls Galleries in New York in 1961 together with a selection of important paintings by Miró, drawing a clear relationship between this sculpture and Miró’s surrealist pictures. Both artists shared the ambition to create a new understanding of art based on a focused engagement with color, line and form to explore spatial composition. Observers have long recognized the similarities and resonance between Calder's greatest sculptural achievements and Miró's painterly inventions in his series of Constellations, a title shared by several of Calder's greatest wood wall sculptures of the 1940s. In viewing Miró's Constellation: Awakening in the Early Morning (1941, Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth), one can almost imagine the individual red elements of Calder's Red Flowers melded into Miró's evocative array of surrealist and anthropomorphic shapes. In studying the contrast between the two works, one can appreciate anew the radical nature of the contrapuntal, elegant, dancing and swirling red forms of Red Flowers. Springing forth in graceful arcs of horizontal and vertical depth, Red Flowers attests to Calder's success in bringing form, color, and line out into the space inhabited by the viewer, thus freeing sculpture from its traditional pedestal.
In a 1962 interview, Calder claimed: "I love red so much that I almost want to paint everything red. I often wish that I'd been a fauve in 1905." (the artist cited in Katherine Kuh, "Calder," The Artist's Voice: Talks with Seventeen Artists, New York, 1962, pp. 38-51) The enlivening properties of red are ideal for Calder's composite elements that exist as discrete volumes of color in space. The movement of these intensely bright elements is determined by the air around them as they interact with their three-dimensional space. The fiery monochromatic palette of Red Flowers highlights Calder's focus on form and movement as the essential sculptural component. Renowned for their outstanding beauty and craftsmanship, the mobiles of Calder are testament to his technical skill, imaginative genius, and talent for organic composition, and in these respects Red Flowers is utterly breathtaking.
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