Alexander Calder - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale New York Thursday, May 16, 2019 | Phillips

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  • Video

    Alexander Calder, 'Black Gamma', Lot 11

    20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale, 16 May 2019

  • Provenance

    Galerie Maeght, Paris
    Acquired from the above by the present owner in 1974

  • Exhibited

    Berlin, Akademie der Künste, Alexander Calder, May 21 - July 16, 1967, no. 43, p. 41
    Saint-Paul-de-Vence, Fondation Maeght; Humlebæk, Louisiana Museum of Art; Amsterdam, Stedelijk Museum, Calder, April 2 - November 16, 1969, no. 240, p. 80
    Nièvre, Château de Ratilly, Calder/Bazaine, June 19 - September 10, 1970, pl. 15, p. 27 (illustrated, p. 25)
    Milan, Studio Marconi, Calder, April - May 1971
    Albi, Musée Toulouse-Lautrec, Calder, June 23 - September 15, 1971, no. 22, p. 16 (illustrated, p. 35; dated 1969)
    Zurich, Galerie Maeght, Alexander Calder: Retrospektive, May 24 - July 1973, no. 9, p. 19
    Minneapolis, Walker Art Center, Calder’s Universe, June 5 - August 14, 1977

  • Catalogue Essay

    "People think that monuments should come out of the ground, never out of the ceiling, but mobiles can be monumental too" –Alexander Calder

    Suspended from the ceiling, Alexander Calder’s Black Gamma, 1966 is in constant motion. The black elements ceaselessly gyrate, pushed by the tiny eddies in the space they occupy. There is a fractal-like element to the composition, with some of the wires holding weights balanced by a succession of smaller forms, each becoming oscillating mobiles in miniature. The sense of movement overall is orchestral, with big notes and little notes providing counterpoints to each other, rendering it endlessly mesmerizing. This effect is reinforced by the composition, with one side arranged more horizontally than the other vertical element, which tumbles downwards in a succession of ever-diminishing abstract shapes. Executed in 1966, Black Gamma perfectly encapsulates all the lyricism of Calder’s celebrated mobiles, and allows it to play out on a large scale with its expansive reach. Exhibited extensively in shows around the world from 1967-1973, and then loaned by the Fitermans to the Walker Art Center for the artist’s renowned exhibition Calder’s Universe in 1977, the work has not been seen by the public in over four decades.

    While the vertical, cascading element of Black Gamma recalls organic specimens, the mobile in its ever-stirring entirety activates the unseen forces of nature, shaping its surrounding space in unexpected ways. “To me whatever sphere, or other form, I use in these constructions does not necessarily mean a body of that size, shape or color, but may mean a more minute system of bodies, an atmospheric condition, or even a void. I.E. the idea that one can compose any things of which he can conceive” (Alexander Calder, “A Propos of Measuring a Mobile”, manuscript, Calder Foundation archives, 1943).

    Calder had already worked on a large scale in previous years, such as in an earlier, 1947 mobile entitled Gamma to which the present work relates. Gamma, now owned by Jon A. Shirley – the bulk of whose collection has been promised to the Seattle Art Museum – presented the viewer with a similar composition; one side appears to comprise of moving wires and weights, hanging vertically, while the other side is more horizontal. Almost 20 years later in Black Gamma, Calder has pared back the composition and aesthetic of the earlier mobile: despite increasing the scale, he has reduced the number of elements, now favoring larger, more emphatic pieces of sheet metal. In addition, he has abandoned the polychrome aspect of Gamma, presenting the new work entirely in black. This elegant restraint heightens its drama, especially when seen from below against the plainness of a ceiling. There is an incessant play of light, shadow, darkness and movement in Black Gamma. In this way, this work resonates with the aesthetics of Barnett Newman and Robert Motherwell, imbuing the complex parts and engineering of the balancing mobile with a heightened sense of visual resolution.

    The scale of Black Gamma ties into developments in Calder’s own life. When he had created his first mobiles in Paris in the 1930s, he worked on a more intimate scale. Later, he moved to a larger house in Connecticut, then to Aix-en-Provence in France, before finally acquiring a farmhouse in Saché. These spaces were tailored increasingly to the artist, and allowed him to expand and expand. While he had made mobiles on this scale before, it was now much easier for him to do so, and he appears to have relished the opportunity. It was in 1963 that he had acquired his Saché studio; Black Gamma was made three years later, and manages to teeter between the intimate and the monumental: its smaller elements invoke a world in miniature while the entirety has a span of roughly ten feet.

    Calder’s initial incorporation of movement into his works had been in the ingenious devices that he had created to great acclaim in the early part of his career, as demonstrated by the sword-swallowers, lions and trapeze-artists of his legendary Cirque Calder, now at the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York. The mobile first came into existence around the same period, when Calder had visited the studio of his friend, the Dutch painter Piet Mondrian. “It was a very exciting room”, Calder would later recount. “Light came in from the left and from the right, and on the solid wall between the windows there were experimental stunts with colored rectangles of cardboard... I suggested to Mondrian that perhaps it would be fun to make these rectangles oscillate. And he, with a very serious countenance, said: ‘No, it is not necessary, my painting is already very fast’” (Alexander Calder, Calder: An Autobiography with Pictures, New York, 1966, p. 113). Calder credited this with being the launch of abstraction in his own work, as he was undeterred by Mondrian’s comment, and began to make forms move in space. Such was the inception of the mobile. Over the coming decades, Calder would make this development an internationally-recognized hallmark of his work, as demonstrated in the present work.

    It was later that Calder began to confront the staid restraint with which artworks were displayed at the time. He started to present his standing works on the floor, rather than on pedestals, and in his hanging mobiles such as Black Gamma, he occupied the space suspended under the ceiling. This had formerly been the arena of painters such as Michelangelo, and seemingly not of sculptures, less so of those that move. Yet Black Gamma dominates the ceiling, with its constellation of black panels and its arms stretching out wider than a human is tall. Three years before Black Gamma was made, the author Michel Ragon wrote of Calder’s works in terms that clearly apply here: “A Calder is a sort of chandelier, which like all chandeliers hangs from the ceiling, but which, in contrast to other chandeliers, is not used as a light fixture, but as a perch on which to rest our dreams” (Michel Ragon, quoted in Jacob Baal-Teshuva, Alexander Calder 1898-1976, Cologne, 2002, p. 24).

  • 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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Property from the Miles and Shirley Fiterman Collection


Black Gamma

each vertical element consecutively numbered "1-8"; incised with the artist’s monogram and date "CA 66" on the element numbered 8
sheet metal, wire and paint
108 x 144 x 100 in. (274.3 x 365.8 x 254 cm.)
Executed in 1966, this work is registered in the archives of the Calder Foundation, New York, under application number A00977.

$5,000,000 - 7,000,000 

Sold for $5,477,500

Contact Specialist
Amanda Lo Iacono
Head of Evening Sale
New York
+1 212 940 1278

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York Auction 16 May | On View at 432 and 450 Park Avenue