Alexander Calder - Contemporary Art Evening Sale New York Thursday, May 15, 2014 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Perls Galleries, New York
    Makler Gallery, Philadelphia
    Private Collection, Pennsylvania
    Christie's, New York, Post-War and Contemporary Art Morning Session, November 14, 2007, lot 187
    Acquired at the above sale by the present owner

  • Exhibited

    New York, Perls Galleries, Alexander Calder: Crags and Critters of 1974, October 15 - November 16, 1974

  • Literature

    Alexander Calder: Crags and Critters of 1974, exh. cat., New York: Perls Galleries, pp. 1, 15, no. 2 (illustrated)

  • Catalogue Essay

    “The basis of everything for me is the universe. The simplest forms in the universe are the sphere and the circle.”


    Exemplifying Alexander Calder’s iconic and ethereal sculptures, Crag with white flower and white discs represents the culmination of Calder’s decades-long exploration of the mobile and stabile elements – an extraordinary synthesis of the painterly and sculptural idioms. Originally created for the exhibition Crags and Critters in 1974, the present work embodies Calder’s poetic employment of floating color and suspended shapes, an enchanting and fanciful manifestation of youthful exuberance illuminated in dancing forms, igniting the sensory experience.

    Calder began his career not as an artist, like his sculptor father and painter mother, but as a mechanical engineer in the early Twentieth century. Developing both his technical knowledge and a strong personal interest in mechanics, Calder embraced the mathematical and scientific aspects of his formal training in his now renowned abstract metal and wire compositions. Relocating to Paris, the epicenter of avant- garde artistic theory and practice, in the early 1930s, Calder found himself among a diverse group of aesthetes including pioneers of the Constructivist and Surrealist movements such as Wassily Kandinsky, Salvador Dali, and Piet Mondrian. Ensconced in the vibrant pre-war atmosphere of ex-pat Paris, Calder was inextricably captivated by the Surrealists’ concern with the imagination, fantasy, and the unconscious. Perhaps most intrigued by the philosophy of his close friends Joan Miró and Mondrian, Calder quickly realized the manifold expressive possibilities in the simplicity of reduced line and primary color.

    Calder’s release from the formal concerns of his scholarly training inspired the artist’s revolutionary approach to the abstract three-dimensional form. Putting pen to paper to record his Abstraction-Création theory, Calder expounded, in 1932:

    “How can art be realized? Out of volumes, motion, spaces bounded by the great space, the universe. Out of different masses, light, heavy, middling—indicated by variations of size or color—directional line—vectors which represent speeds, velocities, accelerations, forces, etc. . . .—these directions making between them meaningful angles, and senses, together defining one big conclusion or many. Spaces, volumes, suggested by the smallest means in contrast to their mass, or even including them, juxtaposed, pierced by vectors, crossed by speeds. Nothing at all of this is fixed. Each element able to move, to stir, to oscillate, to come and go in its relationships with the other elements in its universe.” (A. Calder, “Comment réaliser l’art?” Abstraction-Création, Art Non Figuratif, 1932, no. 1, p. 6)

    Calder’s utilization of painted sheet metal and wire rather than the paint, charcoal and canvas of his Parisian contemporaries marked a significant departure from the Surrealist idiom espoused during this period. Seeking to recreate the dynamism manifested in these painterly surfaces, Calder noted that the physicality of his chosen medium enhanced his creative process: “…wire, or something to twist, or tear, or bend, is an easier medium for me to think in.” (A. Calder, The Painter’s Object, Myfanwy Evans (ed.), 1937, pp. 62-63) Capturing in these tactile media the interplay of negative space and motion, and integrating the color of neo-plasticism and surrealist imagery, Calder’s elegant, celestial works are monuments to dynamic dimensionality.

    Expanding the principles of compositional balance and harmony, in Crag with white flower and white discs, Calder unites these stylistic elements in a colorfully restrained yet whimsical manner, visually interpreting delicate movement in a careful balance between the sculptural base and the gently oscillating dynamism of the mobile forms. Celebrating the automatism of these cerise red, snow white, and striking black components, Calder realizes in his primary – almost monochrome – stabile the remarkable power of movement in its most elemental manner. Speaking of his exploration of these floating, otherworldly primary colors in space, Calder explained: “I have chiefly limited myself to the use of black and white as being the most disparate colors. Red is the color most opposed to both of these—and then, finally, the other primaries.” (A. Calder, “What Abstract Art Means to Me,” in Museum of Modern Art Bulletin 18, Spring 1951, no. 3, pp. 8-9)

    The juxtaposition of movement – so key to Calder’s work – and stability in Crag with white flower and white discs suggests an enigmatic dialogue between these seemingly disparate concerns. Anchored by an undulating, mountainous black base reminiscent of the graphically simplified landscapes of nineteenth-century Japanese watercolors, Crag with white flowers references these playful landscapes. The mobile disks sprouting from the peaks and valleys as though floating petals carried through a gentle breeze, Calder frames his landscape in a simplified and subtle – indeed, surreal – composition. The sculpture’s kinetic potential, unceasingly linked to its physical mass, appears to be a world suspended in time; as the artist himself explained: ‘’If you can imagine a thing, conjure it up in space––then you can make it, and tout de suite you’re a realist.” (A. Calder and K. Kuh, “Alexander Calder,” in The Artist’s Voice: Talks with Seventeen Artists, 1962) Crag with white flower and white discs is a summation of Calder’s most enduring forms, demonstrating the artist’s complex fascination with motion, and its relationship to volume and shape, as well as its realization in a simplified chromatic spectrum. Form may anchor Calder’s work in reality, but his exquisite monuments to movement – such as Crag with white flower and white discs – remind us of the enchantment found in such magical evocations of beauty.

  • 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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Crag with white flower and white discs

painted sheet metal and wire
76 x 86 x 48 in. (193 x 218.4 x 121.9 cm.)
Signed with monogram and dated "CA 74" on the base.
This work is registered in the archives of the Calder Foundation, New York, under application number A-02533.

$2,500,000 - 3,500,000 

Sold for $2,965,000

Contact Specialist
Zach Miner
Head of Sale
+1 212 940 1256

Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York Auction 15 May 2014 7PM