“At heart, Calder has always been an engineer. He has clothed the forces of his engineering with his joyful imagination and his lithe sense of beauty. But the wellspring of his art remains the thrusts, the tensions, the stress loads, the balances, the forces of gravity which he, the engineer, proceeds to adjust and join…” (Robert Osborn cited in Exh. Cat., New York, Whitney Museum of American Art (and travelling), Calder's Universe, 1977, pp. 306-307)
Exuding an ebullient spirit and breathtaking formal dexterity, the architectural yet organic design of Alexander Calder’s wondrous early stabile Monocle from 1947 wholly inhabits the artist’s unparalleled creative genius in its sumptuous choreography of elegantly arced jet-black crescents. This radical sculpture is dramatic in form and sophisticated in composition, capturing with exceptional verve the mastery of the sculptor’s innate ability to create motion from purely static elements. With extraordinary poise, the rounding black sheets of metal that comprise the graceful curvature of the present stabile marry perfectly into a sinuous whole, imbuing Monocle with a breathtaking sense of simultaneous equilibrium and movement that is quintessential Calder. The provenance of this sculpture is exceptional and endows the work with an unparalleled level of historical import: Monocle was acquired directly from the artist by Jean and Howard Lipman, in whose private collection the work remained for decades. Jean Lipman was the noted curator of the artist’s significant 1976 retrospective at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, and the writer of its acclaimed accompanying publication Calder’s Universe. Renowned friends and patrons of the artist, Jean and Howard Lipman also assembled one of the most celebrated collections of Calder’s work in private hands, which included the artist’s famous Cirque Calder, today in the collection of the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York. Dramatically photographed by Herbert Matter on display outdoors at Calder’s Roxbury property, Monocle is a voluminous exemplar of Calder’s most accomplished formal finesse. As Jean Lipman described the work in Calder’s Universe, “Some of the early stabiles, such as Monocle, are small only in size; they have the same potential of scale as the maquettes for the recent monumental ones.” (Jean Lipman, Exh. Cat., New York, Whitney Museum of American Art (and travelling), Calder's Universe, 1977, p. 311) First exhibited in Calder’s now-canonical 1947 exhibition at Buchholz Gallery/Curt Valentin, the work’s significance is further attested to by its illustrious exhibition history: Monocle has since been prominently featured in a number of the artist’s significant retrospectives, including those at the Tate Gallery in London 1962; the Guggenheim Museum in New York in 1964; and the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., in 1998.
Executed just years after Calder’s critically lauded retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art in New York opened in 1943, Monocle exemplifies a momentous early moment of sculptural innovation and uninhibited creative inspiration in the artist’s career. Composed in stark black monochrome, Monocle dazzles in the remarkable complexity of its dignified metal arcs, offering a wholly different configuration from every vantage point around its 360-degree axis. Monocle transmits a dynamic torsion that wholly defies the work’s stationary nature. Bearing a title that evokes the single perforated disc that juts out at the top of the sculpture, Monocle conveys a thrilling sense of dynamism and wondrous fantasy that exemplifies the spirit of Calder’s most revered works. As the sculpture appears to twist and encircle itself with gracefully swooping arcs of jet-black metal, the work takes on anthropomorphic quality, imbuing the inanimate materials with extraordinary life. In the same year that Calder created the present work, he was included in the last major group show of the Surrealist movement, Le Surréalisme en 1947, held at the Galerie Maeght in Paris. Monocle embodies the ingenious creativity of a master of fluid form and bold graphics, eloquently described by Marla Prather in an essay on the aesthetic evolution of Calder’s work from 1937-1945: “The upright orientation of Calder’s freestanding sculpture and the beautifully curving silhouettes of its cut and bent forms underscore the new organic strain in Calder’s art, one that alludes to forms in the natural world without being tied specifically to any one of them.” (Exh. Cat., Washington, D. C., National Gallery of Art, Alexander Calder, 1898-1976, 1998, p. 136) This contrapuntal form is nearly figurative in its coiling choreography; indeed, the vivacious wingspan of Monocle calls to mind the movement of Calder’s suspended mobiles. The disparity between the mobiles and Calder’s standing sculptures prompted Jean Arp to famously dub the latter “stabiles,” a term that has come to encompass all of Calder’s still work, including the present sculpture. Though the distinction between these two bodies of work is well accepted, Marc Glimcher explained, “While some might consider the mobiles to be the ultimate expression of Calder’s use of ‘drawing in space,’ it is, in fact with the stabiles that Calder takes that final step.” Glimcher further notes that just as the artist’s wire sculptures and mobiles “borrow the fundamental drawing element of line and introduce it into the ‘real world,’ the [stabile] relies on the equally familiar element of drawing, the plane.” (Exh. Cat., New York, Pace Wildenstein, Calder: From Model to Monument, 2006, p. 5)
The five delicately cut-out apertures in the upper-most element bestow the sculpture with an extraordinary complexity that renders it a highly accomplished example of Calder’s capacity to sculpt form from air. Beautifully reflecting the dialogue that Modernist architecture has with open space and sunlight, Calder’s sculptures from the mid-to-late 1940s became increasingly characterized by a newfound dynamic in which oval apertures punctuated his characteristic metal forms. This was done in an effort both to heighten their dynamism and, to a more technical end, adjust the physical and visual weight of the whole. Calder expanded the boundaries of sculpture with an unequivocal sense of liveliness and bonhomie. Stabiles such as Monocle were a means of approximating the freedom and mystery of earthly existence, embodying Calder’s revolutionary contribution to the legacy of Twentieth Century Art. The result is quintessential Calder: architectonic and structurally genius in its execution, yet utterly confounding and magnificent in its soul.
Please call 1-800-555-5555 to order a print catalog for this sale.
Online Registration to Bid is Closed for this Sale. Would you like to watch the live sale?Watch Live Sale