Alexander Calder forged a revolutionary genre of sculpture that made subjects of shape and movement themselves. By traversing the boundaries of conventional form Calder's groundbreaking work invented a new creative lexicon, and as early as 1931 Marcel Duchamp christened Calder's early mechanized wire works as 'mobiles', while sometime later Jean Arp coined the term 'stabiles' to describe sculptures akin to the present work. Having reveled in the challenges of harmonizing sculptural design within technical parameters and won the Grand Prize in sculpture at the Venice Biennale in 1952 for his innovative and ingenious use of sheet metal, Calder was forever consumed by the possibilities of three-dimensional movement. By the 1960s, the sheer range of his ingenious works was astounding and while Calder’s mobiles became ubiquitous in any survey show of 20th sculpture, they are always unique and surprising to behold.
Throughout his storied career, Calder drew inspiration from the natural world around him, crafting works that alluded to, but eschewed outright figuration. “To most people who look at a mobile, it’s not more than a series of flat object that move. To a few, though, it may be poetry. I feel there’s a greater scope for the imagination to work that can’t be pinpointed by any specific emotion. That is the limitation of representational sculpture. You’re often enclosed, stopped” (Alexander Calder, quoted in Marla Prather, Alexander Calder: 1898-1976, exh. cat., National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1998, pp. 282-283). The present work masterfully tows the line between these threads in Calder’s oeuvre, supported by a blue base that resembles the body of a reptile, but extending out in brilliant plates of vibrant yellow and red in either direction, destabilizing that association. The work is a constellation of forms, grounded, yet moving celestially through space.
Calder’s sculpture is a treatise in proportion, each yellow element decreasing in size and they move outward from the base. Counterbalancing this visual harmony, a red plate hangs on its own, like a weathervane, providing an idiosyncratic sense of compositional asymmetry. A vital element of the present work is movement itself, which can be prompted through wind or touch, starting the work on an unhurried yet elegant dance through space. As Calder stated, “You look at abstraction, sculptured or painted, an entirely exciting arrangement of planes, nuclei, entirely without meaning. It would be perfect but it is always still. The next step is sculpture in motion” (Alexander Calder, quoted in Marla Prather, Alexander Calder 1898-1976, Washington, D.C. 1998, p. 57). Pushing the limits of what sculptural work can do using just metal, wire and paint, Calder’s Curly blue Tail is an enduring record of the artist’s genius, bringing together color and movement with an intoxicating sense of play.
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