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

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  • Provenance

    Estate of the Artist
    M. Knoedler & Co., Inc., New York
    Acquired from the above by the present owner on October 24, 1978

  • Exhibited

    New York, M. Knoedler & Co., Inc., Alexander Calder: Sculpture of the 1970s, October 4 - November 2, 1978, p. 5 (illustrated)

  • Literature

    Maurice Bruzeau, Calder à Saché, Paris, 1975, (illustrated in the artist's studio, pl. 27, p. 29; pl. 240, p. 153; pl. 249, p. 162; illustrated, pl. 237, p. 150)
    Calder Gouaches, exh. cat., Galerie Brame & Lorenceau, Paris, 2008, p. 19 (illustrated in the artist's studio)

  • Catalogue Essay

    When the photographer Jacques Masson visited the Saché home of Alexander Calder to take pictures for a 1975 book on the artist by the poet Maurice Bruzeau, he was able to capture a vivid sense of the organized chaos of the studio. There is a fizz of creativity to the images of jostling mobiles, tools and pictures, with the big windows letting in their light. The place looks like the lair of an eccentric inventor—not an entirely inaccurate summation. Calder channeled his eccentricity into creating some of the most enduringly captivating works of art of the 20th century. It is telling that in a number of the photos Masson took, he featured White Versus Yellow, a standing mobile created only a couple of years before the publication date. White Versus Yellow is shown in the general chaos of the studio’s interior, towering over some of its contemporaries from its aerie on the workbench. Likewise, Masson chose to photograph it up close, one image capitalizing on the vivid white of some of the petal-like elements in order to create a dynamic contrast with the background. It is a tribute to the visual drama of this sculpture that it holds its own in both color and black-and-white images. After all, as its title indicates, White Versus Yellow is clearly intended as a play on color and principles of disparity. When the mobile element that crests the sculpture is viewed from one direction, its elements appear white, but on the other side they are all a uniform yellow. As the panels move around, this underpins the constant sense of flux and transformation in which Calder’s mobiles are steeped.

    The visual impact of White Versus Yellow is made all the more vivid by its scale—it is over two feet tall, with an angled red stem holding up the moving parts—and by its rigorously-controlled palette. This sculpture contains only black, red, and the yellow and white of the title. The black has been limited to the counterweight, which is seen as the same color from both sides; likewise, the base and wires are entirely red. It is only the rotating fins on one side that switch so dynamically from one side to the other, one color to the other.

    White Versus Yellow perfectly encapsulates the careful balance between poetry and innovation that Calder managed to instill so effortlessly in his art. It is in constant motion, with its appearance affected by the slightest breeze in the space it occupies, even by a passing viewer. It interacts with its environment; at the same time, it is a source of visual fascination, constantly shifting and changing. The yellow and white elements run downwards in a step-like succession, contrasting with the more monolithic black piece on the other side. They vibrate relative not only to the base, but also to each other, creating a shimmering effect that demands our attention. Looking at this sculpture, it is easy to understand why Calder’s mobiles saw him become an international phenomenon. It was in the early part of the 1970s when this work was created that Calder’s popular acclaim reached its peaks when Braniff International Airlines commissioned him to decorate their DC-8 jets.

    Calder was often noted for his idiosyncratic approach to creating art. “Calder is a school of one”, the Daily News announced in 1972, only a year before White Versus Yellow was created (Jean Lipman, Calder's Universe, London, 1977, p. 267). This extended to his use of materials. While in some of his larger-scale projects, including the painting of the DC-8, he would have his work scaled up by artisans, he usually preferred to do it all himself. Creating a mobile was a partly-intuitive process, as he explained to Selden Rodman:

    “About my method of work: first it’s a state of mind. Elation. I only feel elation if I’ve got ahold of something good… I start by cutting out a lot of shapes. Next, I file them and smooth them off. Some I keep because they’re pleasing or dynamic. Some are bits I just happen to find. Then I arrange them, like papier collé, on a table, and ‘paint’ them—that is, arrange them, with wires between the pieces if it’s to be a mobile, for the overall pattern. Finally I cut some more on them with my shears, calculating for balance this time” (Alexander Calder, quoted in Jean Lipman, Calder's Universe, London, 1977, p. 264).

    These techniques allowed Calder to function using only a small number of tools—he would sometimes travel with little more than a pair of pliers, finding these adequate to create mobiles. He renounced an over-reliance on technology, and indeed technique. It was by narrowing the parameters of his art-making, both in terms of process and palette, that he managed to create the poetry that renders his works such as White Versus Yellow so engaging and entrancing.

  • 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


White Versus Yellow

incised with the artist's monogram and date "CA 73" on the base
sheet metal, wire and paint
30 1/2 x 26 1/2 x 5 3/4 in. (77.5 x 67.3 x 14.6 cm.)
Executed in 1973, this work is registered in the archives of the Calder Foundation, New York, under application number A02178.

$500,000 - 700,000 

Sold for $1,400,000

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