With its gracefully canted bar balancing organic black and white elements in a purity of form and visual elegance, Untitled encapsulates the qualities that exemplify the very best works from Alexander Calder’s oeuvre. Executed in 1960, the present work illustrates Calder’s fascination with movement, dynamism and ‘the system of the Universe, or part thereof,’ which Calder once described as ‘the underlying sense of form in my work.’ This poised structure is stabilized by an offset fulcrum, upon which a large black element with an aperture hovers carefully above the ground; this organic black form is balanced by four geometric white elements that hang delicately at the apex of the metal bar, approximating four petals dangling gracefully in mid-air. Although asymmetrical in its composition, Untitled possesses an aesthetically pleasing visual harmony, the slanted rod drawing the eye from the pierced black element to the fanned white shapes overhead. Calder’s universal vision is manifested here, stripped down and reduced to a modest color palette, one that was grounded in non-scientific descriptions of energy. Calder demonstrated a fascination with nature’s dynamic dialogues as early as 1922, a moment captured by the artist in an autobiography: “I saw the beginning of a fiery red sunrise on one side and the moon looking like a silver coin on the other. Of the whole trip [working in the boiler room of a steamship] this impressed me most of all; it left me with a lasting sense of the solar system.” (Alexander Calder with Jean Davidson, Calder: An Autobiography with Pictures, New York, 1966, pp. 54-55) Nearly forty years later, with his execution of Untitled, Calder continued to pursue various spontaneous and dynamic innovations on the enigmas and beauty of Nature in his artistic practice.
Calder’s unique and iconic output was the product of an artistic inclination that manifested since childhood. Although born into a family of artists, Calder at first pursued mathematics and engineering at the Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, New Jersey; however, just six years later, his inherent creative drive and flair for the arts impelled him to move to Paris, where he would attract the attention of contemporaries such as Joan Miró, Piet Mondrian, Man Ray, Fernand Léger, Jean Arp and, significantly, Marcel Duchamp. Calder’s earliest wire sculptures - frequently portraits of well-known figures of the day - had caused a sensation when exhibited in Paris and New York during the late 1920s, yet the sculptor still sought the elusive breakthrough that would enable him to forge an entirely new visual vernacular. The impetus for Calder’s move to abstraction occurred in a now legendary visit to Piet Mondrian’s studio in 1930, where the sight of rectangles of colored paper, arranged on the wall, for compositional experimentation, inspired Calder to think of the kinetic possibilities of art. The artist went on to revolutionize the concept of traditional sculpture by utilizing the full potential of bodies in motion through the remarkable manipulation of metal and wire, which would later prompt Duchamp to coin the term 'mobile' in 1931. In an interview in 1932, Calder revealed his excitement at the extraordinary new creative world he was discovering: “Why must art be static?...You look at an abstraction, sculptured or painted, an intensely 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.” (Alexander Calder cited in Howard Greenfield, The Essential Alexander Calder, New York, 2003, p. 67) Calder was not alone in his quest to invest sculpture with movement; indeed, the Dadaist and Constructivist artists that emerged early in the Twentieth Century had also experimented with kinetic art. In contrast to artists such as Naum Gabo and Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, who mechanized their works with small motors, Calder became more interested in organic movements and how his works could move autonomously, capturing in his mobiles elements from nature such as the sway of wind or a sprinkle of snowflakes. Testament to his visionary and innovative style, the present work beautifully embodies a tension between movement and stasis, dark and light, weight and air; the substantial black plate is veritably locked in position, yet the fan of almost ethereal white shapes overhead can spin quite freely.
Untitled occupies a critical moment in Calder’s career, in which the artist was moving away from his more intimately sized mobiles into larger standing mobiles and stabiles that foreshadow the large-scale commissioned works for public spaces. Calder received his first large scale commission in France in 1958, Spirale, for UNESCO in Paris. From his home in Roxbury, Connecticut, Calder began visiting Waterbury Ironworks in the mid-1940s, collaborating with two draftsmen in particular, Frederick Davis and Carmen Segre, to execute his mobiles on a grander scale. The present work embodies aspects of both the delicate mobiles of the 1940s and the monumental stabiles the artist would create later in his career. Graceful in composition with a spray of ivory plates, a pierced black element that recalls Bougainvillier from 1947, and reaching toward the heavens, Untitled straddles these two iconic bodies of work within Calder’s prolific career.
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