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  • Provenance

    Galerie Maeght, Paris
    Private Collection
    Sale: Sotheby’s, New York, Contemporary Art Evening Sale, May 18, 1999, lot 24
    Acquired at the above sale by the present owner

  • Exhibited

    Zurich, Galerie Maeght, Alexander Calder: Retrospective, May – July, 1973
    Goslar, Germany, Mönchehaus-Museum für Moderne Kunst, Kaiserring Prize, 1977
    Vienna Neustadt, Europa Skulptur, 1997

  • Literature

    Alexander Calder: Retrospective, Galerie Maeght, Zurich, 1973, no. 27 (illustrated)

  • Catalogue Essay

    When I have used spheres and discs, I have intended that they should represent more than what they just are. More or less as the earth is a sphere, but also has some miles of gas about it, volcanoes upon it, and the moon making circles around it, and as the sun is a sphere—but also is a source of intense heat, the effect of which is felt at great distances. A ball of wood or a disc of metal is rather a dull object without this sense of something emanating from it. ALEXANDER CALDER, 1951

    (Alexander Calder from Museum of Modern Art Bulletin, vol. 18, no. 3, Spring, 1951)

    Alexander Calder’s reputation as the world’s greatest abstract sculptor has given him unique prestige in Twentieth Century art. Instead of concentrating on two-dimensional pictures, Calder poured himself into the nature of structure, incorporating color and movement to the extent that his sculptures defy the label of three-dimensional art. Indeed, as they move continuously in a perpetual balance of fated elegance, his sculptures border on a forth dimension, one where the formal relationships of both painting and standing structure cross paths. Calder’s mobiles are themselves a creation of genius, as they continue to fascinate us with their feats of engineering, senses of humor and play, and, of course, abstract beauty and dynamism. The present lot, Trepied, 1972, comes from the final phase of Calder’s career and just four years before his death. In it, we not only see his fascination with grand creations, but also the performative charm and graceful stasis that lends his mobiles a coveted place in art history.

    Though critics recognize Calder’s childhood creations as his earliest moving sculpture, Calder’s first professional forays into the world of living, breathing sculpture came during his years in Paris during the 1920s. As an amateur sculptor and engineer, he merged his two fields in a work that electrified the avant-garde art world: the “Cirque Calder”. Calder engineered his small-scale circus to fit into several suitcases, then to be reassembled upon their removal. His experimentation with moving structures eventually turned into a passion, and, after several artistic breakthroughs in the 1930s (included his new-found devotion to the principles and work of abstract art), Calder began production of his most recognizable form: the mobile. In reality, Calder’s term reflected a combination of the French words for both “mobile” and “motive”. And, in practice, Calder’s suspension and balance of moving pieces of painted metal and suspension bridges justify the “motive” implied in their label:

    “It might be said that Calder sculpted less with materials than with the potentiality of motion. This potentiality occurs thanks to the principle of stable equilibrium around which are organized the active masses. Stable equilibrium ensures that the articulated parts of the mobile spontaneously return to their initial state when they are being caused by external circumstance to move away from it (by being blown or pushed). This happens via a series of gradually decreasing oscillations that lend a muscular quality to the way they move. Their movement tends toward immobility, and in this respect it is most unlike the frenetic and somewhat gesticulatory poetics of motion and dynamics that had characterized the avant-garde from futurism onwards”(A. Pierre, Motion-Emotion: the Art of Alexander Calder, New York, 1999, p. 8). This technical definition of Calder’s methods of motion indicates that his sculptures find motives of their own for movement. Either from changes in the wind, or imbalances created from prior motion, the arms of his mobiles move ever toward a state of equilibrium; a playful but desperate search for a geometric calm.

    As he began to create his first mobiles in the 1930s, Alexander Calder’s artistic influences were joyous as they were diverse. We see in Calder’s suspended and connected abstract shapes the clear impression of Surrealism. Specifically, we see Joan Miro’s figures of lost childhood, appearing as if they were recovered toys from a time gone by. Allowing them to interact amongst each other, Calder gives his youthful elements new life, a universe in which to play. Indeed, one of Alexander Calder’s main ingredients in his mobiles is his jocularity and use of humor. In addition, in the bending and living branches of his works, we see nature itself; for all of his mobiles live through the same principles of forest trees, twist back and forth until they once again achieve equilibrium.

    Trepied, 1972, embodies all of Calder’s stylistic influences as well as symbolizes the beauty and naturally balanced harmony of our natural environment. The bottom half of Calder’s metal sculpture, a standing, three-footed trunk, possesses the robust strength of nature’s most powerful support structures. Calder’s dream-like construction boasts two red metal legs welded to a third, which, in turn, forms the triangular body of Calder’s mobile. Each foot is a round disc, half-black, half-red. Here, we witness an intentional precision in color: Calder’s demarcation represents the way that the sculpture should be viewed. Though it is obvious in the figures above, each foot should be observed as two separate figures, regardless of their structural nature. Calder used color in the same way that a painter of canvas does—to delineate shapes from shapes. Again, we see his visionary genius refuse to be confined within the realms of only two or three dimensions. Instead, he combines tenets of both, delivering the viewer an adventure of exploration in seeking out the many components of his work.

    Above, suspended on the ends of a single metal branch, nearly neutral in its stately silver, we see a colorful balance of varying figures. On one side, we observe a majestic quadrilateral, bright yellow in its hue and massive in its weight. The unequal sides of this powerful figure help it to resist any convenient geometric labels, and lending it unique personality as it hangs over our heads. Equalizing the massy excitement on the opposite end, a joyous conglomeration of shapes bustles with conversation and hangs calmly, balanced perfectly by the yellow giant. While Calder’s blue figure resembles a brother form to the yellow quadrilateral, the other three shapes are unique in the sculpture: a smaller black triangle proclaims the highest point in the mobile, while the two round circles below it, one bright white and the other same hue as the sculpture’s red trunk. However, as we observe Calder’s sculpture in a state of relative calm, we must remember that with any breeze or gust of wind, it will cease to conform to its current orientation, turning and bending in an effort to once again achieve equilibrium. As the piece sets itself back into its original formation of balance, it stands poised to receive another hit, bouncing back into new shapes with a kinetic joy.

    One of the most enticing features of Trepied, 1972, is the fact that all of its movements are dependent upon sheer chance. While a child on his father’s shoulders could push the many facets of the mobile into motion, even a tiny subtlety such as a room’s air circulation could initiate the sculpture’s imbalance, giving new movement to the present lot’s limbs. In the same way that he possesses supreme control of the full range of a specific work’s production, Calder releases all control of his work once the final surface has been painted or surface has been welded. What he gives over is a breathing expression of fate, one that will always continue to move according to ever evolving factors of its environment.

    The nature of the current lot’s potential for movement also endows it with a potential for performance. Enmeshed with and fascinated by dance in 1920s and 1930s Paris, Calder designed sets for seminal choreographer Martha Graham and composer Eric Satie. In turn, this joy of movement came to saturate each of mobiles; Calder chose to imbue each of his creations with a spirit of movement and a future of motion. Calder’s early plans for his Mechanical Ballet reveal the sense of life that he desired to bequeath his artistic subjects: “Calder allowed his true ambition for theatrical productions to emerge: he wanted to dispense with any action onstage other than that of his animated forms, which would then no longer merely serve as decorative sets or props. Rather, he wanted the presence of his work to replace every other presence, especially live actors and dancers. Calder thus endorsed a course that the avant-garde theater has been pursuing since the 1910s: the actor was depersonalized, mechanized, and, ultimately, replaced by a theatrical mechanism, a ‘performance-machine’” (A. Pierre, “Staging Movement”, Marla Prather, ed., Alexander Calder: 1898-1976, Washington DC, 1998, p. 343). By the time he created the present lot in 1972, he had been making theatre out of sculpture for nearly thirty years, and, in the perfect balance of Calder’s many metallic limbs, we see the flawless poise and elegant movement that only a dancer can replicate.

    If the viewer were to push sideways the heavy yellow extremity of Trepied, 1972, the result would be a dance of perfection: rotating around their shared fulcrum, Calder’s branches seem to slide along an invisible plain, their faultless equilibrium a testament to the equal weight on both sides. However, if one were to pull down the same side, then release the figure into the sky above, he would observe a semblance of choreography on the opposite side, the shapes moving upwards and downwards in order to accommodate the alternating weights applied by the viewer. This series of movements paired with the travelling movement of the branch engenders a veritable amusement park of rotating figures and arms. Gazing upon Calder’s thrilling movement, one cannot help but smile at the mobile’s character, as entertaining as it is mesmerizing. In the end, the present lot is a full-scale, self-contained theatrical production, one “presented both as [a painting] in movement and as [a spectacle] staged in [a small theatre], in which the movement of forms is the object of the productions and serves as the subject of the performances” (A. Pierre, “Staging Movement”, Marla Prather, ed., Alexander Calder: 1898-1976, Washington DC, 1998, p. 339).

    The importance of Calder’s art was not only in its nature of movement, but also in its absolute dearth of pretension. In crafting his sculptures from simple sheet metal, Calder chose to make content rather than medium the main subject in his work. Calder’s choice of material, compounded with his bold steps into unexplored regions of sculpture, proved him to be the Twentieth Century’s most progressive sculptor and an artist whose art had universal appeal, devoid of any esoteric or elitist elements. As we embrace the artistic modernity of the Twenty-First Century, we are in Calder’s debt. As we see in Trepied, 1972, Calder was loyal to the spirit of artistic progression until the very end of his career. Witnessing the gracious, humorous, and often surprising movement of the limbs of the present lot, we remember that profundity is not always enmeshed in utter complexity; for meaning can exist in the most modest of sculptures instilled with the most simple vitality.

    “I feel an artist should go about his work simply with great respect for his materials…sculptors of all places and climates have used what came ready
    at hand. They did not search for exotic and precious materials. It was their knowledge and invention which gave value to the result of their labors…
    simplicity of equipment and an adventurous spirit in attacking the unfamiliar or unknown” (Alexander Calder, 1943, “Alexander Calder”, Calder Foundation,
    New York, 1943 taken from Simplicity of Means: Calder and the Devised Object, New York, 2007)

  • Artist Biography

    Alexander Calder

    American • 1898 - 1976

    Alexander Calder worked as an abstract sculptor and has been commonly referred to as the creator of the mobile. He employed industrious materials of wire and metal and transformed them into delicate geometric shapes that respond to the wind or float in air. Born into a family of sculptors, Calder created art from childhood and moved to Paris in 1926, where he became a pioneer of the international avant-garde. In addition to his mobiles, Calder produced an array of public constructions worldwide as well as drawings and paintings that feature the same brand of abstraction. Calder was born in Lawnton, Pennsylvania.

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painted metal
112 1/4 x 118 1/4 x 124 in. (285.1 x 300.4 x 315 cm)
Initialed and dated “AC 72” on the metal element.

$5,000,000 - 7,000,000 

Sold for $5,682,500

Contemporary Art Part I

7 November 2011
New York