Impressionist & Modern Art

Alexander Calder and Joan Miró: One of the Greatest Artistic Friendships of the 20th Century

By Sotheby's

ALEXANDER CALDER AND JOAN MIRÓ INAUGURATING CALDER'S EXHIBITION AT FONDATION MAEGHT, SAINT-PAUL-DE-VENCE, ON APRIL 3, 1969. PHOTO BY KEYSTONE-FRANCE / GAMMA-RAPHO VIA GETTY IMAGES. © 2021 Calder Foundation, New York /Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

The lifelong friendship between Alexander Calder and Joan Miró – and the decades of artistic dialogue between the two – is amongst the most legendary bonds of Twentieth Century art history. Following their first meeting in Paris in 1928, the two forged an intense but enduring friendship, remaining in communication and heavily involved in each other’s lives until Calder’s death in 1976. Despite their very different early lives, their artistic sensibilities are extraordinarily aligned. Both artists combined color, shape, and line in entirely innovative ways, manipulating the boundaries of abstract art to explore new compositional spaces. While they communicated often and their works have a visual resonance, their practices were independent and developed along entirely separate trajectories.

Arriving in France in 1926, Alexander Calder – known to his friends as ‘Sandy’ – found himself surrounded by the aesthetic and intellectual ferment of interwar Paris. Although he nurtured aspirations of painting, he soon decided to expand upon the use of wire and humble materials in three dimensions.. He also began staging demonstrations of the Cirque Calder, a complex, manually manipulated assemblage of miniature circus attractions, which quickly drew the attention of the Parisian avant-garde. Through these inventive performances, Calder was introduced to friends and fellow artists – among them Joan Miró. The two met in December of 1928, and their creative collaboration was immediate: as Calder recalled, "He was very affable and showed me one or two of his things ... one of them was a big sheet of heavy gray cardboard with a feather, a cork, and a picture postcard glued to it ... I was nonplussed; it did not look like art to me." (The artist cited in Exh. Cat., New York, Museum of Modern Art, On Line: Drawing Through the Twentieth Century, 2010-11, p. 50) Miró later attended a Cirque Calder performance. Both artists showed at the Pierre Matisse Gallery in the 1930s, and it is telling that when Calder's mobiles were exhibited at his second show there in 1936, critics were quick to point out the parallels to Miró's art:

"They are very much like Miró abstractions come to life.”
Emily Genauer for New York World-Telegram in February 1936

Joan Miró, Portrait d'une jeune fille, 1966 installed with Alexander Calder, Thirty Inches of Red, 1952. © 2021 Calder Foundation, New York /Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

The two remained in constant contact, even after Calder returned to the United States. In Calder’s own words: “The archaeologist will tell you there’s a little bit of Miró in Calder and a little bit of Calder in Miró.” While in outward presentation the two men could not have been more different – contrast the compact and fastidious Miró with Calder’s large, gregarious presence – they shared a strikingly similar aesthetic vision. After Calder’s return to the United States in 1933, they remained closely engaged with one another’s art. “The communion that existed between Calder and Miró,” remarked Joan Punyet Miró, the artist’s grandson, “was mystical.” Indeed, during World War II, despite their great geographical separation and the near impossibility of communication, both artists produced cosmologically suggestive bodies of work that would each separately become known as Constellations.

The affinity between their oeuvres is readily evident in Calder’s Thirty Inches of Red and Miró’s Portrait d'une jeune fille. The sinuous lines and brightly colored forms of Miró’s canvas find their three-dimensional counterpart in the organic scarlet shapes of Calder’s mobile, as if the latter were a sculptural realization of the ideas suggested in the former. Each a superb exemplar of the respective artist’s singular artistic mode, the present works are a testament to the formal and creative dialogue between these two titans of art history. Indeed, few artists have determined the course of 20th Century art more significantly than these two men; that Calder and Miró shared not only remarkably similar artistic sensibilities, but also a close personal bond, is perhaps only fitting.

“Sandy, the man, the friend, has a heart as big as Niagara. Calder, the artist, has the force of the ocean. I salute you, Sandy."
Joan Miro, quoted in "Alexander Calder, Belovid and Great American Sculptor," Albuquerque Journal, 9 December 1976, p. 25

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