Zurich, Galerie Gmurzynska, Alexander Calder: “The Modernist”, November 2005 - February 2006, p. 47, illustrated in colour; pp. 48-49, illustrated in colour (installation view)
Le Bourget, Gagosian Gallery; Paris, Galerie Patrick Seguin, Calder / Prouvé, June - December 2013, pp. 71 and 80, illustrated in colour (installation view); and pp. 83 and 178, illustrated in colour
Alexander Calder cited in: Jacob Baal-Teshuva, Alexander Calder: 1989-1976, Cologne 1998, p. 5.
Alexander Calder’s 1966 mobile Pads and Shoots is an exemplary work from the artist’s iconic investigations of movement, motion and colour. Encompassing the absolute essence of Calder’s mature aesthetic, the large-scale work comprises a delicately balanced system of biomorphic metal elements each painted a brilliant shade of red. Suspended from an expansive wire framework, the mobile becomes activated by the slightest breath of air, causing the elements to spring into life as they glide effortlessly in a graceful rhythm that seems to defy gravity itself. The vertiginous work is secured from the heights of the ceiling and hangs low to the ground, giving the appearance of freshly sprouting Pads and Shoots. Although entirely abstract, the work is full of natural allusion, and its tree-like qualities are analogous to a number of Calder’s most admired mobiles such as Arc of Petals, 1941, housed in the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York. The term ‘mobile’ was first coined by Marcel Duchamp in 1931 to refer to Calder’s earliest moving sculptures. Over the next few decades, Calder would go on to revolutionise the concept of traditional sculpture, pioneering kinetic art by utilising the full potential of bodies in motion through a remarkable manipulation of metal and wire. This reached its crowning apex in his signature hanging mobiles, which seem to drift weightlessly as they revolve through space and time. With their bold, primary colours and abstract, shifting forms, works such as the present continuously redefine the space around them as they move, casting an endless pattern of shadows in their wake. “Just as one can compose colors, or forms,” the artist declared in 1933, “so one can compose motions” (Alexander Calder cited in: Exh. Cat., London, Tate Modern, Alexander Calder: Performing Sculpture, 2015, p. 24). With its captivating stream of kinetic sequences, Pads and Shoots encapsulates Calder’s poetic quest for a composition founded on the precepts of movement.
Although Calder’s abstract works veer from the explicitly representational, many of his titles, usually given after the fact of creation, are indicative of the natural world. In Pads and Shoots, vibrant red bursts of colour sprout from the wire framework, evoking, as its title implies, a newly budding plant awakening into sprightly bloom. These painted metal shapes extend majestically into the space they occupy, moving elegantly as if in dance. As they revolve mesmerically on a spiralling axis, they become simultaneously suggestive of the dynamic forces of the universe. Calder’s experimentations with kinetic sculpture were compelled by his own recollections of an experience in 1922 off the coast of Guatemala: “I saw the beginning of a fiery red sunrise on one side and the moon looking like a silver coin on the other” he recalled in his autobiography, published in the same year as the present work’s creation (Alexander Calder cited in: Exh. Cat., London, Pace London, Calder After the War, 2013, p. 12). With its polarised clusters of coloured form, Pads and Shoots seems to muse upon these reflections of night and day, sun and moon, in the infinite depths of the cosmos. As the French existentialist philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre astutely stated in 1946, “Calder establishes a general fated course of movement, then abandons them to it: time, sun, heat and wind will determine each particular dance. Thus the object is always midway between the servility of the statue and the independence of natural events. Each of its twists and turns is an inspiration of the moment. In it you can discern the theme composed by its marker, but the mobile weaves a thousand variations on it. It is a little hot-jazz tune, unique and ephemeral, like the sky, like the morning. If you missed it, it is lost forever” (Jean-Paul Sartre, ‘Les Mobiles de Calder' in: Exh. Cat., Paris, Galerie Louis Carré, Alexander Calder: Mobiles, Stabiles, Constellations, 1946, pp. 9-19).
Born in Lawnton, Pennsylvania in 1898, Calder descended from a dynasty of accomplished artists: his father and grandfather were both critically acclaimed sculptors; his mother a professional portrait painter. Growing up, he displayed a great propensity and aptitude for art, but, as a young man at seventeen years of age, much to the surprise of his family, he enrolled at the Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, New Jersey, to study Mechanical Engineering. He excelled at mathematics and was captivated by how things worked, and although by 1923 he had gravitated back towards his true vocation as an artist, his experiences as a mechanical engineer would later inform his innovative visual practice, particularly his monumental works. The idea for a moving sculpture that grappled with the fourth dimension was first roused on a now legendary visit to Piet Mondrian’s studio in 1930 where Calder was impressed by the environmental installation, in particular the cardboard rectangles tacked on the wall for compositional elements. As the artist recalls, “I suggested to Mondrian that perhaps it would be fun to make these rectangles oscillate. And he, with a very serious countenance, said: ‘No, it is not necessary, my painting is already very fast’… This one visit gave me a shock that started things” (Alexander Calder cited in: ibid., p. 218). Propelled by a driving force as vivacious as his own airborne mobiles, Calder paved the way for a ground-breaking new means of sculptural expression which, freed from the shackles of stasis, deftly brought to fruition the avant-garde fascination with dynamism, movement and multiple perspective. Greatly sought after and instantly recognisable across the globe, Calder’s celebrated mobiles represent the very paradigm of his genius, establishing him as one of the most important sculptors of the Twentieth Century. Works such as the present exist today as a testament not only to Calder’s extraordinary creative vision, but also to his dexterity in exploiting the aerodynamics of balance and harmony into a climactic culmination of colour, form and mobility.
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