-The artist cited in Katherine Kuh, "Calder," The Artist's Voice: Talks with Seventeen Artists, New York, 1962, pp. 38-51
For its dynamic composition of organic crimson elements, its immediacy as an icon from the artist’s oeuvre, and its lyrical title that positions it among a small group of equally significant works, Alexander Calder’s Red Sumac is an incomparable example of the artist’s practice. Brilliantly merging the crucial tenets of Calder’s artistic theory with a unique aesthetic and joie de vivre, Red Sumac is a superb mobile that brings to life the pioneering achievements of one of the twentieth century’s most beloved artists. Red Sumac from 1972 is a classic example of Calder's mature work in his most desirable and captivating format: the mobile. Feats both of Calder's fertile and inquisitive mind and his intuitive process, Calder’s most treasured body of work displays the artist at his most technically adept and conceptually inventive. The diversity of balance and axis in this complex aerial composition is full of the cadence and dexterity that are unique to Calder's canon of suspended forms, moving in a sublime metallic ballet of ever-changing composition. Renowned for their outstanding beauty and craftsmanship, the mobiles of Calder are testament to his technical prowess and imaginative genius.
Calder began making mobiles as a young artist in Paris in the early 1930s, "not extractions, but abstractions. Abstractions that are like nothing in life except in their manner of reacting." (the artist in Abstraction-Création, Art Non Figuratif, no. 1, 1932, n.p.) The immediate and decisive event that transformed Calder from the renowned creator of his wire Cirque Calder to a master of abstraction was his now famous visit to Piet Mondrian's studio in October 1930, wherein Mondrian's strict neo-plastic principles were projected from his paintings onto the overall environment of the studio. His surroundings were rendered in the basic components of his painterly theory from the reductive palette of purist colors, extending to the cardboard rectangles tacked on the wall for compositional experimentation, the latter of which Calder suggested be made to oscillate. Calder intuitively sensed the creative possibilities of applying geometric and biomorphic abstraction to spatial constructions, and this epiphany was the catalyst for his inventions of the new sculptural types: stabiles, mobiles and the hybrid standing mobiles.
Yet in contrast to this anecdotal conversion to abstraction, Red Sumac testifies that Calder's genius for organic form assured that figuration and the lush dynamism underlying the natural world would not disappear entirely from his otherwise nonobjective work. There are approximately twenty vine-related Sumac sculptures in Calder's oeuvre, including the present work as well as Just a Sumac to You, Dear (1965, Milwaukee Art Museum) and Sumac II (1952, The Sheldon Memorial Art Gallery, University of Nebraska-Lincoln). Gestural elements that resemble leaves and sinuous vines had long been a delicately seductive influence on the undulating lines of Calder's mobiles from the black large-scale mobiles, such as Eucalyptus and S-Shaped Vine to the standing mobiles such as the sumptuous Bougainvillier. In its most familiar form, the sumac is a plant with very symmetrical arrays of leaves, all in evenly spaced rows of red - a color that is central to Calder's canon throughout the media of sculpture, paintings and works on paper. In a 1962 interview, Calder claimed, "I love red so much that I almost want to paint everything red. I often wish that I'd been a fauve in 1905." (the artist quoted in: Katharine Kuh, "Calder," The Artist's Voice: Talks with Seventeen Artists, New York, 1962, pp. 38-51) The enlivening properties of red are ideal for Calder's composite elements that exist as discrete volumes of color in space. The movement of these intensely bright elements is determined by the air around them as they interact with their three-dimensional space. The fiery monochromatic palette of Red Sumac highlights Calder's focus on form and movement as the essential sculptural components. Renowned for their outstanding beauty and craftsmanship, the mobiles of Calder are testament to his technical skill, imaginative genius, and talent for organic composition, and in these respects Red Sumac is utterly breathtaking.
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