Lot 26
  • 26

Alexander Calder

Estimate
4,000,000 - 6,000,000 USD
Sold
4,645,000 USD
bidding is closed

Description

  • Alexander Calder
  • The Blue Comb (Le peigne bleu)
  • inscribed with the artist's monogram on the largest element
  • painted sheet metal and wire hanging mobile
  • 52  1/2  x 76  3/4  inches

Provenance

Perls Galleries, New York
Private Collection, Cleveland Heights (acquired from the above in 1959)
Galerie Maeght, Paris
Galerie Hans Mayer, Düsseldorf (acquired from the above in 1969)
Obelisk Gallery, Boston
Acquired by the present owner from the above in 1979

Literature

Exh. Cat., Saint-Paul-de-Vence, Fondation Maeght, Calder, 1969, p. 127, illustrated in color
Archives Maeght, Calder: l'artiste et l'ouevre, Paris, 1971, pl. 60, p. 60, illustrated in color

Catalogue Note

The incomparable Alexander Calder created an unimaginably vast array of art in his long and storied career; Calder’s innovative aesthetic concepts altered the course of art history with his transformation of abstract art into three-dimensional forms that, at their most eloquent, move and dance through the space they inhabit. His oeuvre is among the most avant-garde and authentic of the Twentieth Century, and The Blue Comb (Le peigne bleu) exquisitely embodies the beautiful poetry, humorous wit, brilliant color, balletic precision, and compositional verve that earned Calder critical and popular accolades for decades and established him as one of the greatest masters of the sculptural  tradition in the history of Western art.

Created in 1959, The Blue Comb captures the breadth of Calder’s fertile creativity, encompassing both boldness in its dazzling color palette and delicacy in its configuration. As with the greatest mobiles of the 1950s that Calder produced, The Blue Comb is wonderfully complex in the variety of discrete constellations of elements and diversity of movement. The upward spray of yellow elements conveys a joyous sense of liberation, counterbalanced by the larger elements of the pierced red disc, the blue comb of the title, and six triangulate elements that exist as if a mobile on their own. As the air lightly activates the sculpture, The Blue Comb is transformed into one of the most animated and lively mobiles in Calder’s corpus, taking full possession of the surrounding space as well as commandeering time as a fourth dimension in its own right. In a state of constant evolution, the bottom elements swing and sway in embracing, circular motions, altering the composition presented to the viewer from every angle and from moment to moment.  It is a sculpture that gracefully and unpredictably moves within a given space, and fully celebrates Calder’s grand achievement in bringing sculpture off the pedestal and into the environment of the viewer. Calder began making mobiles as a young artist in Paris, shortly after his famous visit to the studio of Piet Mondrian in 1930 where he observed that Mondrian’s strict neo-plastic principles were projected from his paintings onto the overall environment of the studio. Intuitively sensing the creative possibilities of applying geometric and biomorphic abstraction to spatial constructions, Calder experienced an epiphany that was the catalyst for his inventions of new sculptural types. Within a short time, Calder pronounced his cri de coeur in 1932: “ ‘Why must art be static?’ demanded Alexander Calder calmly as he closed his exhibition at Julien Levy Gallery today. ‘You look at an abstraction, sculptured or painted, an intensely exciting arrangement of planes, spheres, nuclei, entirely without a meaning. It would be perfect, but it is always still’.” (the artist cited in “Object to Art Being Static, So He Keeps it in Motion, New York World-Telegram, June 11, 1932)  In his preface to the catalogue for Calder’s 1946 exhibition at Galerie Louis Carré, Jean-Paul Sartre gave definitive voice to the universal import of Calder’s work: “there is more of the unpredictable about them than in any other human creation. No human brain, not even their creator’s, could possibly foresee all of the complex combinations of which they are capable. A general destiny of the movement is sketched for them, and they are left to work it out for themselves.” (as cited in Jean Lipman, Calder’s Universe, New York 1976, p. 261)

Oscillating harmoniously, the solid shapes of The Blue Comb are fully integrated with the linear outlines and wires that map its geometric form and trajectory. The center of the work is given poise, weight, and status by the two large elements – the disc in Calder’s famous glowing red, pierced with two apertures of differing size, and the rippling blue element that gives the work its anthropomorphic title. Infused with his innate gift for engineering and his keen appreciation for nature and all its creatures, Calder’s mobiles are often populated with suggestions of living flora and fauna, akin to the Surrealism of his close friend and fellow artist, Joan Miró. The saturated colors and fanciful figures of the Spanish artist’s Le Fermier et son epouse of 1936 – including a strutting bird topped with a blue comb – belong to a body of work Calder would know intimately, having met Miró in the 1920s. Whales, fish, birds, vines, bougainvillea, and sumac are just a few of the naturalist images that populate Calder’s work during the decades leading up to The Blue Comb.  Comparisons abound between Calder’s work and his fellow Modernists, ranging from Miró to the enigmatic mysteries of Yves Tanguy to the vivid color cut-outs of Henri Matisse, but an appreciation for Calder’s early compatriots should not blind us to his equal, if not greater importance as the century progressed. In the graceful control of Calder’s linear compositions and his bold integration of abstraction and figuration, works such as The Blue Comb bear striking kinship to the fluid beauty of Willem de Kooning’s linear and coloristic genius in his mastery of oil paint.

The significance of Calder’s art and innovations, as beautifully amplified by The Blue Comb, is elegantly and succinctly summarized by Jed Perl in the catalogue for the 2013 Los Angeles Calder solo exhibition: “Alexander Calder joined sensibility with science, the empathetic with the engineered. Very few artists had done that before, and no artist since Leonardo da Vinci had so closely studied not only the magic but also the mechanics of forms moving through air. Born in 1898, Calder was in his thirties when he started exhibiting the works that his friend Marcel Duchamp named mobiles. Although Calder was not quite the first or the last artist to set sculpture in motion, he sent volumes moving through space with more conviction and imaginative power – with more eloquence and elegance – than any other artist has. These are the works of a poet, but a poet guided by the steady instincts of a scientist.” (Jed Perl, “Sensibility and Science” in Exh. Cat., Los Angeles, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Calder and Abstraction, from Avant-Garde to Iconic, 2013, p. 36)

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