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Details & Cataloguing

Contemporary Art Evening Auction

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London

Alexander Calder
1898 - 1976
UNTITLED
incised with the artist's monogram, dated 60 and incised per Tino on the underside of the yellow element
painted sheet metal and wire
33 by 200.7 by 63.5 cm. 13 by 79 by 25 in.
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This work is registered in the archives of The Calder Foundation, New York, under application number A05460.

Provenance

Costantino Nivola, New York (a gift from the artist)

Thence by descent to the present owner

Catalogue Note

The collection of sculptor Costantino Nivola (1911-1988) is distinguished by works Nivola was given by fellow acclaimed artists, his close friends, several of whom were celebrated masters of the New York School and the European avant-garde. Nivola was among the first wave of artists in the 1940s to transfer his home and studio from New York City to the East End of Long Island where he lived and worked in close proximity to Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, and Saul Steinberg among many others. His collection is a testament to the rich exchange between the artists in that community. The works represent some of the pivotal developments in art of the Twentieth Century. 

Nivola's home in the village of Springs, where he settled in 1948, became a hub for the artists and intellectuals within his circle. His prolific output and the work of his contemporaries that he gradually received over the years, defined the unique aesthetic of his surroundings. Le Corbusier painted a fresco mural on the central interior walls of his home. Numerous artworks which have remained within Nivola's collection similarly shaped the character of each room of the house as well as the surrounding garden.

Costantino Nivola was born in Orani, Sardinia in 1911. He and his wife, German-born artist Ruth Guggenheim, fled fascist Italy in 1939 for the United States, settling first in Greenwich Village, New York. With a background in art, having studied sculpture as a pupil of Marino Marini in Milan, he began his professional life in New York as a designer and quickly earned a position as art director of Progressive Architecture and Interiors magazines. There he came into contact with some of the era's most influential Modern architects including Le Corbusier, Jose Luis Sert, and Eero Saarinen with whom Nivola would eventually collaborate on extensive sculpture commissions.

Nivola's work for much of his career focused primarily on the production of large scale sand-cast bas reliefs in concrete where Nivola employed a technique he developed in the 1940s. In 1944, Nivola also had his first exhibition of paintings and sculptures at Wakefield Gallery in New York followed by a show in 1950 at Tibor de Nagy Gallery in New York. He also exhibited at Quadriennale in Rome, Triennale and a retrospective in 1999 at the P.A.C. Museum in Milan, Stable Gallery in New York and Signa Gallery in East Hampton. Nivola created several private and public commissions including a 75-foot-long wall relief made for the Olivetti showroom (New York), as well as works for the Mutual Hartford Insurance Company (Connecticut), Harvard University, McCormick Plaza Exposition Center (Chicago) and Yale University. He enjoyed much success and acclaim, especially in the U.S., and his work is currently on permanent display in the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C. In 1995 a museum dedicated to his art was opened in his hometown, Orani.

Sotheby’s is honoured to offer two exceptional works from this exquisite collection. Alongside a work on paper by Willem de Kooning offered in the Contemporary Curated auction in New York on 27 September 2017, the collection also includes an elegant mobile by Alexander Calder. Created in 1960, Untitled is one of the many personal gifts made for Nivola – known to his friends as Tino – by his East Hampton contemporaries.

In 1941, only two years after he arrived in New York, Nivola became friends with Alexander Calder. Photographed together in January 1959 wearing paper masks at Calder’s Roxbury home in Connecticut alongside fellow artist René Bouché and violinist Alexander Schneider, Calder and Nivola shared a friendship underlined by their mutual sculptural practices. The present work is testament to this bond. In a letter to Nivola dated 19th April 1960, Calder writes: “Dear Tino, I am busy making mobiles – what kind would you like? Tell me!”

Spanning two metres, elegant wire branches support a canopy of floating black elements punctuated by two larger elements painted red and yellow. Archetypally Calder, Untitled is a graceful demonstration of the artist’s ground-breaking liberation of pictorial colour and line. Suspended from arched steel wires of varying thickness, organic shapes of flat painted sheet metal hang from individual points. The result is an ever-changing and mutable visual encounter that reacts to the movement and flow of air. Endless permutations impart countless compositional arrangements – colour and line in free form, affected by physics alone. Like an outstretched wing, the wire structure flexes and pivots, oscillates and turns, from which celestial Lily pads of primary colour hover above the viewer’s head. For Calder, an affinity with the dynamics of the cosmos and nature was the essential driving force behind the construction of these works: “The basis of everything for me is the universe. The simplest forms in the universe are the sphere and the circle. I represent them by disks and then I vary them. My whole theory about art is the disparity that exists between form, masses and movement. Even my triangles are spheres, but they are spheres of a different shape” (Alexander Calder in conversation with Katherine Kuh in: Katherine Kuh, The Artist’s Voice: Talks with Seventeen Artists, New York and Evanston 1962, p. 38). Calder’s mobiles present a moving representation of the cosmos in its holistic entirety; the invisible forces that drive and affect us are here given tangible form. Brought into sharp focus by the artist, these elemental forces dance for us in an inimitable ballet of graceful movement.

Following his legendary visit to Piet Mondrian’s studio in 1930 – the epiphanous moment the artist realised his ambition to animate the static compositional elements of the space – Calder spent the next twenty years perfecting the form and execution of his mobiles. By the beginning of the 1960s he had achieved a height of aesthetic skill and critical appreciation. Ambitious commissions now occupied large public spaces; in 1958 Spirale was installed in the grounds of UNESCO in Paris, while Calder’s imposing .125 had been gracing the lobby of the International Arrivals Building at JFK airport for almost a year. Work on public and corporate commissions continued well into the next decade, as did a slew of solo exhibitions and retrospectives, including the major 1964-65 survey of Calder’s career at the Guggenheim in New York. Narrating the beginning of a stellar decade for the artist, Untitled is an imposing yet delicate articulation of the core tenets for which Calder is today celebrated as having revolutionised the practice of twentieth-century sculpture.

Contemporary Art Evening Auction

|
London