Private Collection (thence by descent)
Christie’s, New York, 14 November 2012, Lot 71
Acquired from the above by the late owner
Installed in every major art institution in the world, Calder’s mobiles are the paradigms of his genius. They are immediately identifiable and each one exists as testament not only to his extraordinary creative vision, but also to his consummate manual facility and his engineer’s ability to exact perfect balance and harmony. However, they also serve as significant milestones within the wider history of art, emblematising that specific moment when sculpture broke free from the shackles of stasis and erupted into dynamic movement: “Alexander Calder joined sensibility with science, the emphatic with the engineered… he sent volumes moving through space with more conviction and imaginative power – with more eloquence and elegance – than any other artist has. These are the works of a poet, but a poet guided by the steady instincts of a scientist” (Jed Perl, 'Sensibility and Science', in: Exh. Cat., Los Angeles, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Calder and Abstraction, from Avant-Garde to Iconic, 2013, p. 36).
Untitled is idiosyncratic of this fêted series, completed in an impressive scale with a bold economy of form and a typically limited palette. Its ever-changing shape runs from the largest and lowest element – a black trapezoid – all the way up to the smallest and highest – a red circle – across a slew of curvilinear stems and biomorphic shapes. Untitled uses a composition founded on symmetry; it is harmonious across a plethora of axes and, through its steady rotational movement, composed in time as much as it is in space. Through this freedom of tangential movement, it exemplifies Jean-Paul Sartre’s assertion about this genus of Calder’s oeuvre: “there is more of the unpredictable about them than in any other human creation. No human brain, not even their creator’s, could possibly foresee all of the complex combinations of which they are capable. A general destiny is sketched for them, and they are left to work it out for themselves” (Jean-Paul Sartre cited in: Jean Lipman, Calder’s Universe, New York 1976, p. 261).
By the end of the 1950s, Calder was known as an abstract artist of sophistication and avant-garde import. He had already become the youngest artist ever to be afforded a retrospective at MoMA, he had already been the subject of smash-hit exhibitions in the most prestigious Parisian galleries, and he had already earned the plaudits and friendship of such legendary aesthetes as James Johnson Sweeney, Marcel Duchamp, and Joan Miró. His mobiles were understood to have taken up the mantel of Piet Mondrian, advancing that distinct visual language into kinesis; he was an integral part of the Abstraction Création movement, founded to counteract the sway of the Surrealists in 1930s Paris; and he was the flag bearer of American post-war art, winning the Grand Prize for Sculpture at the 1952 Venice Biennale. However, Calder was also an artist who rooted himself deeply within nature – who was happier responding to the natural environment than to the avant-garde discourse. It is for this reason that, as well as presenting a bold composition of ineffable abstract grace, Untitled appears as an asinine vine, snaking forth as its stems rotate into extension. Calder ensured that both of his studios – in Roxbury, Connecticut, and Saché, France – were set in fecund oases of flora and fauna. Even if this sculpture does not intimate a specific species in the manner that so many of Calder’s works do, it is nonetheless organic in mood, and distils those traits of the natural world that informed so much of his mature praxis.
Hovering in intractable equilibrium, and perfectly balanced across a multitude of axes, Untitled shows unequivocally that Calder’s mobiles were the most structurally complex and deftly composed works that he created. In turn however, they also inspire the most inherently childlike reaction from the viewer; we are compelled to gaze upwards, in awe at the sublimity and grace of these floating and drifting shapes. The present work is an archetypal creation by Calder that passed through the collection of one of Sweden’s most important gallerists; as significant within his oeuvre as it is within the wider post-war discourse.