Alexander Calder - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale New York Thursday, May 18, 2017 | Phillips

Create your first list.

Select an existing list or create a new list to share and manage lots you follow.

  • Provenance

    Perls Galleries, New York
    Mr. and Mrs. Melvin Hirsh, Beverly Hills
    Newspace Gallery, Los Angeles
    A. Alfred Taubman (acquired from the above in October 1977)
    His sale, Sotheby's, New York, November 4, 2015, lot 3
    Acquired at the above sale by the present owner

  • Exhibited

    Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1977-1979 (on loan)

  • Catalogue Essay

    “What they may do at a given moment will be determined by the time of day, the sun, the temperature or the wind. The object is thus always half way between the servility of a statue and the independence of natural events; each of its evolutions is the inspiration of a moment." (Jean-Paul Sartre, "The Mobiles of Calder," Alexander Calder, exh. cat., Buchholz Gallery, New York, 1947)

    Without prior knowledge one would be hard pressed to determine that Sartre was not in fact speaking of the purely natural realm, but rather of his friend Alexander Calder’s wonderful mobile sculptures. Two Red Petals in the Air from 1958 is a stunning example of Calder’s ability to synthesize color, form, and movement in a wholly unique and innovative fashion to create a new type of sculpture for the modern age. Suspended elegantly from the top-most vertical branch, Two Red Petals in the Air could be seen as a strictly two-dimensional object – beautifully colored and sculpted flat forms arranged along a thin line, brilliantly colored planes hovering magically in space. However, the faintest breath of wind sets the forms in motion. First, it’s in three dimensions; then, with motion and time, all four. “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)” (Arnauld Pierre, Motion-Emotion: the Art of Alexander Calder, New York, 1999, p. 8).

    Relatively unique in that its title directly references the floral realm without actually containing any flower-shaped elements, Two Red Petals in the Air is evocative of a stylized, deconstructed flowering plant. Branching off to one side of the balanced arrangement are two horizontally oriented elements – irregularly shaped black planes, anchoring the composition, as if the rest of the elements are in some sort of jungle bromeliad and here are the anchoring points to its host tree. The two red petals of the title arc majestically upwards, fiery little daggers manifesting a delicate canopy above the rest of the composition. Beneath them seem to bloom three yellow, round buds of decreasing size, and finally, there rests three more yellow elements, little triangular buds of yellow, and one shocking blue, all of which form a wonderfully entropic coda to the mannered and measured forms above. In these ways, Calder achieved a particular genesis within his art – not exactly imitative but quite actually embodying those same elemental and living qualities that shape the natural realm.

    Inspired by the fractured planarity of the Cubists, the pure color of de Stijl, the element of play from the Dadaists, and the transformative nature of the Surrealists, Alexander Calder’s contribution to the plastic arts of the 20th century is impossible to overstate. Attentive to the most avant-garde aesthetics of the time, immersing himself in the creative world of inter-war Europe, Calder did not allow these influences to coopt his own aesthetic, but rather these influences liberated his own ingenuity. As both a painter and a sculptor, American and global citizen, Calder’s influences and artistic output was as varied and accomplished as any of the greats who inspired him or any of the countless theoretical and mechanical progeny to whom he gave rise. Not so dissimilar from the likes of Pablo Picasso or Henri Matisse, Calder constantly found new inspiration and new outlets for his abilities. By the end of his life, Matisse discovered a wonderfully simple method of composition that was impossibly ripe with possibility. His cutouts transformed the bright swaths of color from his early Fauvist period into basic abstracted forms readily recognizable as naturally derived. Playing the arrangement of these forms like Arp or Schwitters did before him, Matisse found a new manner to physically manifest his creative ingenuity as works on paper and even then transformed into stunning stained glass installations. Similarly, Calder’s ability to reinterpret and reinvent an artistic form as storied as sculpture is a testament to his fertile and inquisitive mind as well as his extraordinary affinity for engineering.

    Two Red Petals in the Air encapsulates all that made Calder’s mobiles revolutionary and immediate. Such works as this may be evocative of the natural, yet they exist within their own universe of abstraction. The compositional arrangement is as integral as the shape of each individual element is as important as the coloration to its understanding as an abstracted, nearly living form in its reaction, and subjugation, to the elements of time, space and the viewer’s vantage point. “Calder alone found a way to project this fascination with the movement of forms through time and space back into the real world as an artistic actuality,” Jed Pearl wrote in Calder and Abstraction: From Avant-Guard to Iconic. “This is the miracle of the mobile.”

  • 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.

    View More Works

Property from an Important European Collection


Two Red Petals in the Air

incised with the artist's monogram and date "CA 58" on the largest black element
painted sheet metal and wire hanging mobile
40 x 54 x 20 in. (101.6 x 137.2 x 50.8 cm.)
Executed in 1958, this work is registered in the archives of the Calder Foundation, New York under application number A07334.

$2,500,000 - 3,000,000 

Sold for $2,410,000

Contact Specialist
Kate Bryan
Head of Evening Sale
New York
+ 1 212 940 1267

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York Auction 18 May 2017