Dorothy Haas Rautbord, Palm Beach (acquired from the above in 1959)
Christie's, London, 20 May 1998, Lot 76 (consigned by the above)
Private Collection, Barcelona (acquired from the above sale)
Christie’s, London, Living with Art - A Private European Collection, 9 February 2012, Lot 604 (consigned by the above)
Acquired from the above by the late owner
Evocatively, the title of the present work transforms the architectonic abstract shapes into a series of natural biomorphic forms. The red base of this standing mobile suggests a slender body with two legs and a belly, bowing in graceful curtsey. Here, the cascading interconnected metal wires are comparable to the bones in our spine, in our arms, and in our extremities, allowing the present work to reach out and move with all the charm of a skilled ballet dancer, or like the cantilevered arms of a tree swaying in the breeze. In his own words, Calder states that “the idea of detached bodies floating in space, of different sizes and densities, perhaps of different colours and temperatures some at rest, while others move in peculiar manners seems to me the ideal source of form”, suggesting his preference for the organic, despite his use of industrial materials (Alexander Calder, ‘What Abstract Art Means to Me’, Museum of Modern Art Bulletin, Vol. 18, No. 3, Spring 1951, pp. 8-9).
In referring to ‘bodies floating in space’, Calder brings to mind the spectacle of circus acrobats on tightropes, which he used to illustrate and report on for the newspaper tabloid National Police Gazette (Isabelle Dervaux cited in: Exh. Pamphlet, Washington, National Gallery of Art, Alexander Calder 1898-1976, 1998, p. 2). Calder’s fascination with the circus reappears in unexpected ways throughout his entire career. In particular, the weightless balancing acts resonate with his kinetic sculptures in that their dynamic forms are so precisely balanced that they appear to defy gravity.
It is not only form, but also colour, that makes the present work one of Calder’s most striking sculptural iterations. The primary use of red, blue, and yellow, along with black and white accents, recall the work of Piet Mondrian, whose working environment was instrumental in the artist’s development. In 1930, Calder visited Mondrian’s studio, and there he expressed that “this one visit gave me a shock that started things” (Alexander Calder, An Autobiography in Pictures, New York 1966, p. 113). Although Mondrian is hailed as the pioneer of geometric abstraction and the painter of primary colours, it was Calder who ultimately brought this visual landscape into the three-dimensional realm of space and movement. With Calder’s sculptures, even the softest breath of air initiates an endlessly fascinating and intricate choreography of colours and shapes in lyrical movement. This was such a breakthrough invention for sculpture that in 1931 Marcel Duchamp coined a new word – the ‘mobile’ – to accurately describe the genius of Calder’s kinetic sculptural abstractions.
In the years leading up to the creation of the present work, Calder became the youngest artist to be given a retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, in 1943. Then, in 1952, he received the Grand Prize for sculpture at the Venice Biennale. Thereafter in the 1950s, Calder’s body of work became dominated by monumental mobile sculptures, having produced three grand-scale public commissions for the John F. Kennedy International Airport, the U.S. Pavillion at the 1958 Brussels World Fair, and the Paris UNESCO headquarters. Thus, while Two Legs and a Belly emerged from Calder’s period of grand-scale production, this piece is nonetheless an extremely personal and intimately scaled work, which pleasantly complements and counter-balances his more monumental public pieces created during the same period.
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