Lot 24
  • 24

Alexander Calder

3,000,000 - 4,000,000 USD
4,869,000 USD
bidding is closed


  • Alexander Calder
  • Untitled
  • painted metal and wire hanging mobile


Private Collection, Venezuela (acquired from the artist in 1951)
Thence by descent to the present owners


Caracas, Fundación Eugenio Mendoza, Calder en Venezuela, July - August 1969, cat. no. 1, p. 40, illustrated in black and white

Catalogue Note

Untitled is a magnificent example of Alexander Calder’s iconic hanging mobiles, brilliantly distilling the crucial elements of the sculptor’s theory and practice. The work features a highly distinguished provenance, having been acquired by the family of the current owner in the year of its creation, 1951, and through descent has been resident within the same private collection ever since. Variegated pieces of brightly hued metal, reminiscent of the petals to be found on exotic plants or of gloriously colored butterflies, seem to float within a construction of astonishingly delicate beauty; the ‘petals’ appear to diminish in size towards the outer edges of the mobile, as though arrested in the act of drifting off into space. The entire arrangement invites associations with cosmological concepts, a concern which was of lasting fascination to Calder: “I think … the underlying sense of form in my work has been the system of the universe, or a part of it. For that is rather a large model to work from.” (cited in Jacob Baal-Teshuva, Calder, Cologne, 1998, p. 20) When viewed with these overtones of cosmic ambition, the outer segments of Untitled are arguably suggestive of satellites that orbit around the larger central shapes, as though compelled to hover within distance by a powerful gravitational force: an entire universe in microcosm. By raising our eyes heavenwards to take in the full glory of Untitled, Calder encourages the viewer to dream and to distance the mind from earthly concerns, an idea elegantly expressed by Michel Ragon: “A Calder is a sort of chandelier, which like all chandeliers hangs from the ceiling, but which, in contrast to other chandeliers, is not used as a light fixture, but as a perch on which to rest our dreams.” (Michel Ragon in Ibid., p. 24) Untitled thus serves as an aid to a form of metaphysical contemplation, with the gentle movements of the branches encouraging a sensation of calm tinged with wonder and awe.

Although Marcel Duchamp had been the first to use the word ‘mobile’ in 1913, it was Calder who revolutionized the concept of traditional sculpture by utilizing the full potential of bodies in motion through the remarkable manipulation of metal and wire. 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 form of artistic expression. The answer arrived during a now legendary visit to Piet Mondrian’s studio in 1930, where the sight of squares of colored paper, arranged on the wall in the manner of one of Mondrian’s paintings, inspired Calder to think of the kinetic possibilities of art. In an interview in 1932, Calder revealed his excitement at the extraordinary new creative world he was in the process of discovering: “Why must art be static?... You look at an abstraction, sculptured or painted, an entirely 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.” (cited in Howard Greenfield, The Essential Alexander Calder, New York, 2003, p. 67)

It was in 1932 that Calder made his very first hanging mobile, Small Sphere and Heavy Sphere, an elegantly simple arrangement of a tiny white sphere alongside a larger red sphere that oscillated gently at the end of long, vertical wires. Uncomplicated though this early work appears at first glance, Small Sphere and Heavy Sphere anticipates the astounding later mobiles such as Untitled, enabling the sculptor to blaze a path through wholly unexplored artistic territory. The first open-air mobile, Steel Fish, was created in 1934, and over the following two decades Calder continued to create mobiles – alongside his stabiles, earthbound investigations into sculptural form – of ever-increasing complexity and intricacy, utilizing myriad numbers of colored metallic segments to create pieces of stunning sophistication. Two years prior to the making of Untitled, Calder created his largest mobile to date, International Mobile, an immensely impressive work that was the centerpiece of the 3rd International Exhibition of Sculpture at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Calder achieved further international appreciation in 1952 when he was awarded the major sculptural prize at the 26th Venice Biennale, indicating that his genius had been fully recognized by the wider artistic community by the time Untitled was created. Ultimately Untitled stands at the pinnacle of Calder’s investigation into the possibilities of kinetic art, perfectly epitomizing the emotions and attitudes suggested in the sculptor’s own conclusion on the art form he had pioneered: “When everything goes right a mobile is a piece of poetry that danced with the joy of life…” (cited in Op. Cit., p. 47) In its glorious riot of primary colors and celebration of movement and form, Untitled truly does seem to ‘dance’ with pure joie-de-vivre.