Lot 110
  • 110

Alexander Calder

Estimate
1,200,000 - 1,800,000 USD
Sold
2,890,000 USD
bidding is closed

Description

  • Alexander Calder
  • Red Eyed Dragon
  • painted metal and wire
  • Height of main part:  12  1/2  inches
    Length of stand:  15 inches
    20 x 20 x 12 inches

Provenance

Curt Valentin Gallery, New York
B.H. and Abby Friedman, New York (acquired from the above circa 1950)
Gift to the present owner from the above in 1957

Exhibited

Hempstead, Hofstra University, Emily Lowe Gallery, Line and Form, October - November 1968, cat. no. 10, illustrated on the cover

Catalogue Note

The Judith and Kalman Noselson collection represents the quintessential collection that is perhaps no longer possible in this globalized world of art. It is very rare to come across collectors and their collections that are so thoroughly related to the artists and the time. Thoroughly ensconced within the avant-garde movement of Abstract Expressionism, Judith and Kalman shared many friendships with the artists they collected. This imbued the collection with an undeniably personal and intimate nature. Each work has a particular backstory that helps make the collection so charming and compelling as evidence of the great artistic forces at play in New York in the Post-War period. Perhaps the most important backstory of the entire collection is the profound love and compassion ‘Judi and Kal’ felt for one another. Collecting was truly their passion and decades were spent exploring and understanding the art and artists they met and befriended. One clear token of their love, Willem de Kooning’s Floating Women was given to Judith by Kal on their 9th wedding anniversary. Such patent passion and demonstrable love was infectious and endeared them to some of the most important artists of the day. Kalman's brother-in-law was Jackson Pollock’s first biographer and renowned art historian B.H. Friedman, who provided an essential entry into the close knit circle of artists that congregated in places such as Cedar’s Tavern on a nightly basis. The culture of debate and discussion in venues such as Cedar’s Tavern or galleries such as Martha Jackson and Sidney Janis provided the avant-garde with an arena in which they would enter to espouse their aesthetic ideals was essential in allowing these artists to interrelate into the movement we now know as Abstract Expressionism. To have been privy to such debating and information was exceptional and the Noselsons were some of the lucky few to enter this hallowed circle of artists. Such privilege enabled the Noselsons to select the pieces that most poignantly related to the respective artists. The greatest collections and their collectors such as Peggy Guggenheim or Gertrude Stein have always heeded the advice of artists and art historians such as Marcel Duchamp or Pablo Picasso. The Noselson’s confidence in their instincts and their willingness to learn allowed them to choose works most representative of the artist. Study for Pink Angels by Willem de Kooning, for example, is an essential work on paper that relates to one of the most critical de Koonings. The piece is one of the few studies for a painting of paramount importance to de Kooning scholars, Pink Angels, which demonstrates both his relationship to Europe and is exemplary of the Abstract Expressionism that was to come. Such a canny selection of de Kooning’s work is a marker of the profound understanding the Noselsons had of the artists they collected which can be witnessed in each and every piece. Their personal intimacy with the artists they collected allowed them to buy the best, or, in the case of the Lee Krasner painting receive the best. Perhaps one of the most important painting by Lee Krasner, Cauldron was a gift of the artist to the Noselsons. The great friendship they shared stemmed from the mutual passion they felt from one another. Cauldron was an extremely emotional piece for Krasner that was painted right when Pollock died. Careful to give it to only the most deserving of collectors, Krasner chose the Noselsons as recipients of this powerful painting because of the kinship she felt with the family. This kinship stemmed also from the manner in which the Noselsons shared their passion for art and their ever willingness to speak with artists, curators and collectors alike. For years Judi and Kal helped to curate many shows at Emily Lowe Gallery in Long Island near their home. They took great joy in sharing their love of art as well as sharing their actual collection in various shows around the country. Judi and Kal were friends of The Whitney Museum of American Art and helped support its move uptown in the early sixties. They met on a blind date through a mutual friend of each of their mother’s. They became engaged after three months of dating and married just a few months later. They took to collecting as eagerly and avidly as they did to each other, buying only what they and their artist-friends loved, living wholeheartedly with and for their collection. Alexander Calder’s Red Eyed Dragon, a wedding gift to the couple in 1957 from B.H. and Abby Friedman, stood proudly on their dining room table enchanting both the Noselson children and dinner guests alike. It epitomizes the joy they had in both collecting and living with the work Such a happy marriage of interest and appetite for art coupled with an intimacy with the artists is what created such a special and personal collection that truly serves as a window into the lives of many of the most compelling artists of the twentieth century.

With Red Eyed Dragon, Alexander Calder gracefully balances variously-sized red discs cascading asymmetrically with a standing base by means of a long, horizontal cantilever, encapsulating the qualities that exemplify the artist’s best work. This delicately scaled standing mobile displays his interest in form, movement and color and their relationship to each other. Here, the series of delicate red disks that sweep around in an elegant arrangement of forms are offset by the solid and angular base with a round opening. Combining two of his most celebrated and sought-after forms–his graceful mobiles and more substantial stabiles–this work demonstrates Calder’s fascination with breaking down the traditional boundaries associated with sculpture. With its carefully constructed juxtaposition between the solidity of the base and the dynamism of the floating strands of wire and circles, the overall effect of Red Eyed Dragon is one of extraordinary grace and beauty.

The structurally perplexing arrangement of this work recalls Calder's early training as an engineer before turning exclusively to art in the early 1920s. The artist has arranged a series of red discs, tumbling through space gradually decreasing in size from large to small–with the counterbalance of one exceptionally large red disc offset on the opposite side. These shapes serve not just an aesthetic function–they are also designed to have a dynamic function too, as when touched by the slightest breeze of wind, they allow the sculpture to spring into life as the delicate arms begin to sweep around the central axis–a quality that is rare in the sculptural form. With simple shapes and streamlined construction, Calder creates multiple movements that convey both a sense of solidity and permanence through its earthly anchorage, as well as dynamism and movement through the delicately floating wire elements and carefully suspended circular forms.  

Created during a period of renewed artistic liberation and discovery in the decade following the end of the Second World War, Red Eyed Dragon is a superb example of Calder’s standing mobiles, and features intriguing provenance. B.H. Friedman, Jackson Pollock’s first biographer and close friend, gave this work as a wedding gift to Judith and Kalman Noselson in 1957. Friedman was actually married to Kalman Noselson’s sister, Abby. The Noselsons were greatly involved in the arts and served on the board of various New York institutions; they also amassed a substantial collection of American artists including Franz Kline, Robert Rauschenberg, and Willem de Kooning.

This sculpture’s playful title is characteristic of Calder's work, which is often infused with an element of imagination and whimsy. Having already experimented with animal forms in Cirque Calder, his small-scale performance piece whose cast of characters are sculpted from wood, wire and cloth, Calder brought a more abstract sensibility to the mobile. The opening in the center of the work’s black base, as well as the larger red disc could both refer to this fantastical creature’s “eye.” Thus, his title is especially important to spark–but not limit–the viewer's imagination. The obvious biomorphic nature of the form in this piece demonstrates a clear lineage of Surrealist abstraction with Miró as its most important practitioner. Miró and Calder were friends of the highest order and effused prolifically about one another's work. Red Eyed Dragon is additionally an excellent example of the influence of Calder's exposure to myriad cultures from his extensive traveling on his work. From Caracas to Delhi, Calder keenly embraced the cultures and mythologies of the places he visited with. The reference to the dragon is certainly an effect of the influence his interest in Asian cultures, specifically, China and Japan.

Calder's revolutionary ideas about sculpture were the result of an aesthetic epiphany during a 1930 visit to Mondrian’s studio where he was inspired to discover a three-dimensional art form that would embody the reductive palette and spatial inventiveness of the great artist’s paintings and bring these modernist elements into the viewer’s experience and space. Calder famously declared: "Why must sculpture be static? You look at abstraction, sculptured or painted, an entirely exciting arrangement of planes, nuclei, entirely without meaning. It would be perfect but it is always still. The next step is sculpture in motion" (Marla Prather, Alexander Calder 1898-1976, Washington, 1998, p. 57). With its enticing mixture of hard and soft lines, bold use of color and unparalleled kinetic qualities, Red Eyed Dragon becomes the enticing embodiment of Calder's influential artistic practice, pushing the limits of his chosen medium.

Balanced by the dynamic juxtaposition of delicately suspended mobile parts and the beautifully elongated black base, the present work is a sophisticated testament to Calder’s technical skill, imaginative genius and talent for organic composition. At once solid and sinuous, the black form that grounds Red Eyed Dragon perfectly supports the arrangement of hovering disks poised delicately above it. Evolving out of the thin wire that supports them, the nine red discs of varying sizes, superbly countered by the larger red weight, oscillate up and down. Red Eyed Dragon is a stunning example of Calder's unique brand of artistic expression that possess a clarity of form and execution, showing him at the height of his aesthetic and creative powers. This hybrid form captures both the stationary elegance of the stabiles with the playful choreography and movement of the mobiles–the perfect duality of intangible balance and continual movement.

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