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alexander calder (1898 - 1976)

Lots to be sold at our Important Sale: Modern & Contemporary Art + Design & Watches 14 – 16 May 2024

”What I produce is not precisely what I have in mind—but a sort of sketch, a man-made approximation. That others grasp what I have in mind seems unessential … as long as they have something else in theirs.”

—Alexander Calder

The American sculptor and painter Alexander Calder was to become one of the most talented and innovative creators of the 20th century. With the invention of his kinetic mobiles, the hanging sculptures in which he used wire and metal to create three-dimensional artworks that was constantly in motion by air, he found his very own genre in the art world. Despite his great interest in the sculptures, Calder never ceased painting and drawing. He especially enjoyed working with the gouache colour since it allowed for a spontaneous expression and wider possibilities to reflect a visual effect connected to his sculptures. In the gouache paintings Calder was pushing the boundaries between the figurative and the abstract, very often using different geometric shapes and forms that was reflecting his sculptures, which were combined with other figurative images. He used a narrow palette, mainly focusing the colours to his characteristic red, yellow, black, white and blue tones.

Born in 1898 in Lawton, Pennsylvania, Calder would follow in the footsteps of his family as an artist. Both his father and grandfather were sculptors and his mother a painter. This created a fertile soil for him to grow from and his creative talent was noticed at a very early age, especially his great skill to handle different kind of materials and structures. However, he initially commenced his studies at the Stevens Institute of Technology but shortly thereafter instead enrolled at the Art Students League when moving to New York in 1923. To earn his living, he worked as an illustrator and was given the opportunity to sketch circus scenes, which led to a lifelong interest of the circus. A few years later, when Calder was in Paris, he created his today renowned Cirque Calder, which was a unique body of art with wire models rigged to perform various functions of the circus performers, like acrobats and different animals, all manipulated by Calder himself and thus predating the performance art by several decades. 

When Calder started to sculpt portraits of his friends and others in wire, he was immediately gaining attention and offered the possibility to exhibit at numerous exhibitions in New York, Paris and Berlin. This led to meetings with other influential artists and intellectual alike, including Miró, Duchamp, Léger and Mondrian who was of profound importance for Calder’s future abstract works. When he started to focus on the sculptures, the kinetic mobiles were initially motorized but Calder soon discovered that the most accomplished effects showed by air motion. Opposed to his kinetic mobiles, he also created stabiles, his stationary abstract sculptures, works that soon was to be executed in monumental sizes, highly appreciated in prestigious sculpture parks and outdoor decoration. 

Painting quickly in gouache, Calder could transcribe the vocabulary of his sculptures into a more immediate medium than the metal large-scale works he was working with simultaneously. The two gouache paintings included in this sale are characteristic compositions that reflects a synthesis between Calder’s geometric kinetic sculptures and their motion. In an elongated vertical composition of different shapes of circular forms in junction, we follow the swirling movement that continues beyond the painting’s borders in lot 561 and in lot 562 the black and white orbs meet an organic star-shaped yellow form with red contours. The artistry of Alexander Calder has inspired and influenced many contemporary artists, leaving an unquestionable impact on the art world that forever changed the rules of the visual arts. Simply expressed by himself: “Just as one can compose colors, or forms, so one can compose motions.” 

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