Lot 28
  • 28

Alexander Calder

3,000,000 - 4,000,000 GBP
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  • Alexander Calder
  • Black Lace 
  • painted sheet metal and wire hanging mobile
  • 160 by 280 by 60 cm. 100 3/8 by 43 3/8 by 15 3/4 in.
  • Executed circa 1947.


Henrique Mindlin, Rio de Janiero (acquired from the artist)

Acquired from the above by the present owner in 1959


Rio de Janiero, Museo d’Arte Moderna; and São Paulo, Museó d’Arte, Alexander Calder, September - November 1948 (4 elements exhibited)

Rio de Janiero, Museu de Arte Moderna do Rio de Janeiro, Alexander Calder: Escultura, Guache, September - October 1959


Exh. Cat., São Paulo, Pinacoteca do Estado de São Paulo, Calder no Brazil, 2006, pp. 77 and 82, illustrated 


Colour: The colour in the catalogue illustration is fairly accurate. Condition: Please refer to the department for a professional condition report.
"In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.

Catalogue Note

Dominating its surroundings with inimitable kinetic grace and a monumental horizontal span of over eight feet, Alexander Calder’s sensational Black Lace (circa 1947) is a symphonic archetype of the groundbreaking marriage between form and movement that constitutes the singular hallmark of its creator’s legacy. Comprised of fourteen individually conceived sheet metal elements balanced in perfect equilibrium that, at the encouragement of even the most subtle breath of air, are inspired to float in and around each other in seamless unison, the present work broadcasts the very quintessence of Calder’s revolutionary approach to sculptural practice. Moreover, this work exists as the spectacular result of a specifically significant moment in the artist’s career, imbuing it with additional import and historical significance. In his own words, Calder describes a chance meeting that would become the unsuspecting catalyst for a special selection of sculptures to which Black Lace belongs: “In New York in 1944, we had met a Brazilian – Henrique Mindlin. He had been intrigued by a small mobile he had seen somewhere, and wanted one for himself…I made him a similar one which could be taken to pieces – legs taken off, metal feather removed – so he could fly it to Rio without any trouble…Mindlin was very enthusiastic about my work and said that I must come to Brazil. So four years later, in 1948, having made various shipments of my work to Henrique in Rio, Louisa and I set out for Brazil” (Alexander Calder, An Autobiography with Pictures, New York 1966, p. 198). The present work is wholly demonstrative of the profound influence that Calder’s visit to Rio de Janiero had on his output. Acquired directly from Mindlin in 1959 and included in the artist’s first ever exhibition in Brazil, Black Lace exists for us today not simply as a stunning exemplar of Calder’s distinctive aesthetic but also as an indelible memento to a period of profound creative flourish and insatiable inspiration.

After first meeting in New York in 1944, Calder and Mindlin forged a symbiotic professional relationship and personal friendship that would span several decades. During Calder’s visit to Brazil in 1948, Mindlin organised numerous events and parties for the artist and his wife Louisa to attend; he also curated a landmark exhibition of Calder’s work at the Ministry of Education in Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, of which Black Lace was a part. The newly built Ministry of Education, a groundbreaking archetype of modernist Brazilian architecture designed by Lucio Costa, Oscar Niemeyer, and others, provided an ideal venue for exhibiting Calder’s work. Mindlin took great care assembling the works for the show and putting together the exhibition catalogue, for which he wrote an essay praising Calder’s mobiles and linking their sublime craftsmanship to the burgeoning modernist Brazilian architectural movement: “Calder’s work offers extraordinary possibilities for the integration of sculpture in the architecture of our time. One must simply imagine one of his large ‘mobiles’ suspended in the portico of one of our new buildings, such as the Ministry of Education or the Institute of Reinsurance. Visualizing the work being touched by a breeze, occupying the clear space with its new rhythms, one understands not only the importance of Calder’s contributions to architecture, but especially to that architecture of the sun and open spaces, which occurs in Brazil” (Henrique Mindlin cited in: Exh. Cat., Rio de Janeiro, Ministério do Educaçao, e Saúde, Alexander Calder, September 1948, n.p.). In the following years, Calder and Mindlin maintained a close bond, despite the distance between Rio de Janeiro and Roxbury, Connecticut, where the artist lived and worked. Mindlin, ever determined to bring Calder’s work to a wider audience, organised his third exhibition at the Museu de Arte Moderna (MAM), Rio de Janeiro, in 1959 and forecasted, “Give me some time and Rio will be taken by a Calder storm” (Henrique Mindlin cited in: Exh. Cat., Rio de Janeiro, Paço Imperial, Calder no Brasil, 2006, n.p.). Over the coming years Mindlin was successful in positioning Calder’s work in the collections of the Brazilian cultural elite. Calder would send his sculptures to Mindlin in Brazil, who would sell them for Calder. Mindlin even helped secure a number of commissions for the artist in buildings around Brazil as a complement to the new modernist architecture.

The present work bears superb witness to this special personal and professional bond. Indeed, given the aesthetic proclivities and technical aptitudes of these two men it is not surprising that they became instantly drawn to one another, developing a long standing mutual respect and admiration. Calder's intuitive engineering skills coupled with his precise and economical methodology bestowed his work with a distinct architectural appeal – the three-dimensional counterbalance of weight, colour and form inextricably dependent upon environmental factors chime with the fundamental tenets of architectural design. Furthermore, where Calder resonated with the Modern masters and their essentialist treatment of color and form, Mindlin made a name for himself as a Modernist architect and was instrumental in transforming Rio’s now famous skyline.

Beautifully reflecting the dialogue that Modernist architecture has with open space and sunlight, Calder’s mobiles from the mid-to-late 1940s – of which Black Lace is a truly superlative example – became increasingly characterised by a newfound dynamic in which oval apertures punctuated his characteristic metal discs. This was done in an effort both to heighten their transparency and surface animation and, to a more technical end, adjust the physical and visual weight of the whole. The artist described, “When I cut out my plates I have two things in mind. I want them to be more alive, and I think about balance. Which explains the holes in the plates. The most important thing is that the mobile be able to catch the air. It has to be able to move” (Alexander Calder in 1959, cited in: XXE siècle, Homage à Calder, Paris 1972, p. 98). In Black Lace, this new technique is employed to mesmerising effect. Calder chose to pierce three of the larger elements here with a selection of variously sized perforations. When considered for their placement within the totality of the composition it becomes apparent that these three punctured elements were specifically and strategically chosen. For each one grounds its own branch of Black Lace’s complex compositional constellation and therefore in turn each is singularly responsible for the resulting ethereal lightness and effortless motion of its immediately surrounding elements. The result is quintessential Calder: architectonic and structurally genius in its execution, yet utterly confounding and magnificently whimsical in its soul. A harmonious token of the meaningful and synergistic relationship between Calder and Mindlin, Black Lace is, above all, an indubitable masterpiece of the sculptor’s innovation during this critical decade in his prodigious career.