“To most people who look at a mobile, it’s no more than a series of flat objects that move. To a few, though, it may be poetry.”
A virtuosic example of Alexander Calder’s widely celebrated hanging mobiles, Occhio Giallo encapsulates the artist’s technical skill and iconic style through the intuitive use of metal plates, wire, and color. Despite the present work’s compact form, Occhio Giallo is a culmination of the conceptual tenets that defined Calder’s long career. Calder was a voracious traveler and world explorer, with a deep appreciation for the continents and cultures he visited. Between 1953 and 1957, he visited Europe, the Middle East, India and South American. During this period, Calder represented the United States in the second São Paulo Art Biennial and completed projects for UNESCO, the American Consulate in Frankfurt, and also the Spoleto Festival dei Due Mondi. Calder's engagement with these dynamic experiences resulted in a rich and diverse body of work from which Occhio Giallo is a noteworthy example.
Occhio Giallo’s formal and chromatic qualities are calibrated to give the greatest impact with the highest degree of effortlessness. Occhio Giallo translates from Italian to Yellow Eye, and yet the abstract yellow element dances through space as if having a life of its own. The subtle use of red and yellow in the work contrasting strikingly with the black, imbuing the sculpture with a bold, outsize presence beyond its physical dimensions. Constructed from painted steel wire and sheet metal, Calder’s sculpture exhibits a graceful rhythm and effortlessness, reminiscent of a dancer poised between motions, or a tree branch swaying in the wind.
Credited with revolutionizing contemporary sculpture, Calder reimagined the role and function of the medium, releasing it from a history of relative stasis and heralding a new era of artistic freedom and invention. Calder was born into a family of artists who supported his exploration from an early age. An artist since childhood, he was deeply interested in the essential natural laws of the universe, seeking new ways to explore and activate these precepts through art. In 1923, Calder enrolled in the Art Students League in New York to study painting; just three 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, Man Ray, Fernand Léger, Jean Arp, Marcel Duchamp, and Piet Mondrian. Indeed, the impetus behind 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, compelled Calder to suggest that they “oscillate.” 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 quoted in Howard Greenfield, The Essential Alexander Calder, New York, 2003, p. 67)
Using just wire and cut metal, his mobiles engaged the principles of balance, weight distribution, and aerodynamics to set sculpture in motion, overturning nearly every traditional principle of a sculptural landscape in which cast bronze was the dominant medium. Operating on a series of axes, Occhio Giallo demonstrates Calder’s unique skill in choreographing his sculptures’ movements through meticulous execution, while also allowing them to freely and independently interact with their environment.
Greatly sought after and instantly recognizable across the globe, Calder’s celebrated mobiles represent the very paradigm of his genius, establishing him as one of the most important sculptors of the Twentieth Century. Works such as the present exist today as a testament not only to Calder’s extraordinary creative vision, but also to his dexterity in exploiting the aerodynamics of balance and harmony into a climactic culmination of color, form and mobility.