Carlos Raúl Villanueva, Caracas
President Marcos Pérez Jiménez, Venezuela (acquired as a gift and installed at his residence in Playa Grande, La Guaira)
José Bruzual, Caracas (purchased during the uprising of January 23, 1958 and until at least August 1969)
Galeria Bonino, Ltd., New York (acquired in Caracas)
Acquired by the present owner from the above in 1972
Alexander Calder's sculptures are among the most inventive and original works within the canon of American art of the 20th century. Heralded by curator Marvin Friedman as "one of the greatest form-givers America has ever produced," his decades of art production demonstrate an unparalleled facility of discovery and character. The present Discos Redondos, 1955 is a verifiable biography of a seminal moment in the artist's career during the precise moment when Calder's longstanding preoccupation with impeccable and seemingly impossible balance was coupled with his gravitation toward monumentality. In 1952, the year that Calder represented the United States in the XXVI Biennale di Venezia, the sculptor accepted an ambitious commission from renowned Carlos Raúl Villanueva to design an acoustic ceiling for the magnificent Aula Magna Hall of the Central University of Venezuela, one of the most important Latin American architectural projects. Villanueva's work followed a fundamental thesis that the specific expression of architecture was merely built space: "from the essential invention of space as the key of the entire project, the volumetric enclosure articulates itself. It defines and harmonizes the third architectural element which is structure." (Raúl Carlos Villanueva as quoted in Patrick Frank, Readings in Latin American Art, New Haven, 2004, p. 103). What better marriage for Calder who excelled at matching sculpture with its environment, as Calder's poly-chromed voluminous shapes became in effect, acoustical reflectors suspended lyrically above the hall, a further kinetic extension of Calder's 'Universe'.
The collaborative inspiration of the commission was immediately followed by an outstanding exhibition in Caracas in September 1955, from which Calder reflected "in my show at the Museo de Bellas Artes, everything was sold, most of it right after the opening, and I even had to send some more objects to Caracas when I got home in Roxbury. It is the only time I witnessed a complete sellout of a whole show." (Alexander Calder, An Autobiography with Pictures, London, 1967, p. 242). The formidable Discos Redondos was exhibited in this landmark show whose opening was reported in a 1955 issue of the New York Times: "Alexander Calder, sculptor from Roxbury, Conn., opened an exhibition here today of his 'mobiles' which seem to have taken Venezuelan art circles by storm. Mr. Calder was known here before, but his popularity is constantly growing. Of twenty-six mobiles exhibited here, twenty were sold to private viewers before the exhibition formally opened. Three of the five 'stabiles' exhibited were sold also." ("Mobiles in Caracas, Calder Opens Exhibition of Sculpture at Museum," The New York Times, September 12, 1955).
Discos Redondos is a sculpture that truly elaborates how Calder's kinetic creations are in a constant state of flux. Proving that individual painted metal sheets can render space asunder within a seemingly impossible volume of introspective and extraverted dynamism, Discos Redondos is a testament to Calder's unmatched talent for three-dimensional composition. It is a glorious feat of assembled and engineered beauty, fabricated under the auspices of his unwavering artistic vision. A degree in mechanical engineering from the Stevens Institute of Technology at the age of 21 demonstrated to a young Calder the ambitious potential and profound ingenuity possible with the manipulation of scale. "There has been an agrandissement in my work," Calder said in 1960. "It's true that I've more or less retired from the smaller mobiles. I regard them as just fiddling. The engineering on the big objects is important." (Alexander Calder quoted in Exh. Cat., Washington, D. C., National Gallery of Art, Alexander Calder 1898-1976, 1998, p. 279). Thus, the onset of the 1950s trumpeted a new form of aestheticism for Calder, and the noble line of sculptures that would be produced were buttressed by an unprecedented amount of important public commissions such as Unesco's Le Spirale, 1958 and Back From Rio, 1959 located at Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania.
Calder's training in engineering greatly facilitated the realization of innovative three-dimensional forms. As the sculptor's friend Robert Osborn wrote: "Calder has always been an engineer. He has clothed the forces of his engineering with his joyful imagination and his lithe sense of beauty. But the well-spring of his art remains the thrusts, the tensions, the stress-loads, the balances, the force of gravity, which the engineer proceeds to adjust and join."(Jean Lipman, Calder's Universe, New York, 1976, pp. 306-307). Articulated by the boldly graphic colors of red, black and white, Discos Redondos bears all the hallmarks of Calder's large-scale standing mobiles which pronounce the artist's creative dexterity in sculptural invention whether in the intimacy of a garden or the expanse of a large urban space.Discos Redondos was acquired following the 1955 Museo Bellas Artes exhibition by a group of engineers and thereafter presented to President Marcos Pérez Jiménez who installed it in the modernist beach villa in La Guaira which he had just commissioned from José Fructoso Vivas Vivas. During the 1958 uprising which deposed the President, insurgents removed the standing mobile from the villa, and sold it to José Bruzual in whose collection it remained until the late 1960s. Sotheby's has consulted extensively with public and private institutions and databases on each of the names that appears in the provenance sequence above and no further information has become available that is inconsistent with the above account of the work's ownership and location between 1955 and 1972.
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