"Sculpture suggests movement, painting suggests depth or light. Calder suggests nothing. He captures true, living movements and crafts them into something. His mobiles signify nothing, refer to nothing other than themselves. They simply are: they are absolutes."
Jean-Paul Sartre in Exh. Cat., Paris, Galerie Louis Carré, Alexander Calder, 1946, n.p.
Sotheby's is pleased to be offering Mobile noir et rouge, formerly in the Collection of Dorothy H. Rautbord. Dorothy was an avid art lover and amassed a significant collection over her lifetime including works by Alexander Calder, Jean Dubuffet, Morris Louis and Frank Stella. A founding member of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago and a patron of the Norton Museum of Art in Palm Beach, Dorothy began collecting in the early 1950s. Dorothy stood at the forefront of the art world and her collection reflected her ability to spot great talent. In this vein, she was attracted to the true ingenuity and movement of Calder's work, as seen in the present Mobile noir et rouge, which was purchased the same year of its execution.
Alexander Calder’s exquisite Mobile noir et rouge from 1961 is a prime example of the artist’s intense exploration of the movement of objects through space. Calder sought to use his sculpture to redefine the art form by adding motion and breaking the static nature of canvas. It was Calder’s extreme technical skill and creativity that afforded him great success in investigating these questions and resulted in the creation of elegant works like Mobile noir et rouge that continuously unfold as new experiences interacting within space.
Formed by thirteen cascading red and black elements, Mobile noir et rouge is an example of Calder’s classic exploration of bold geometric forms, kinetic orchestration and animated movement. The black elements hang vertically while the ten interlocking horizontal red elements vibrantly sweep across space. The construction of the mobile is one of perfect balance and drama; each element is aligned so that the elements never touch, even as they move suspended in space. The red elements exude balance while simultaneously creating a sense of weight within their spatial movement.
Executed at the height of his career, Mobile noir et rouge is a continuation of Calder’s focus on abstraction. Calder was pushed to abstraction after a visit to Piet Mondrian’s Paris studio in 1930. Enthralled by a series of colored rectangles Mondrian had tacked to the wall “in a pattern after his nature,” Calder speculated that he “would like to make them oscillate,” contemplating “how fine it would be if everything moved” (the artist quoted in Exh. Cat., New York, Jonathan O’Hara Gallery, Alexander Calder: Selected Works 1932-1972, 1994, p. 3). Mondrian objected furiously, but Calder could not be deterred. He considered movement “one of the primary elements of [artistic] composition and realized that the truest representation of movement was not movement in stasis, as the Futurists had attempted to capture, but rather movement composition” (Ibid., p. 10). In the artist’s words, “You look at an abstraction…an intensely exciting arrangement…It would be perfect, but it is always still. The next step in sculpture is motion” (the artist quoted in "Objects to Art Being Static, So He Keeps It in Motion," New York World-Telegram, 11 June 1932, n.p.).
In 1931, Calder had already produced a diverse body of kinetic abstractions and Marcel Duchamp christened these mechanized wire works as we know them today. Calder later recalled, "I asked him [Marcel Duchamp] what sort of a name I could give these things and he at once produced 'Mobile.' In addition to something that moves, in French it also means motive" (the artist quoted in Exh. Cat, Whitney Museum of American Art, Calder's Universe, New York 1976, p. 268). Later, it would be Jean Arp who coined the term ‘stabile.’ By breaking down the boundaries of sculpture as it was known, Calder's groundbreaking work required a new descriptive lexicon. Having reveled in the challenges of harmonizing sculptural design with technical concerns and site-specific parameters and winning the Grand Prize in sculpture at the Venice Biennale in 1952 for his innovative and ingenious use of sheet metal, Calder continued to explore the possibilities of three-dimensional movement via the hanging mobile format. As Jean-Paul Sartre wrote, “Calder does not suggest movement, he captures it...he imitates nothing, and I know no art less untruthful than his” (Jean-Paul Sartre, "Existentialist on Mobilist," ArtNews, No. 46. December 1947, p. 22).