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  • "A mobile in motion leaves an invisible wake behind it, or rather, each element leaves an individual wake behind its individual self."
    —Alexander Calder

    Epitomizing the artist’s explorations on the movement of objects in space, Fourteen Black Leaves is an especially poetic example of Alexander Calder’s iconic hanging mobiles. Executed in 1961, the kinetic energy engendered in the present work transforms metal and wire into stemmed forms dancing in the wind. As the mobile moves in different light and air conditions, the elements shift through infinite possibilities before the viewer’s eyes, displaying an extraordinary sense of dynamism. In the words of Jean-Paul Sartre, “These movements that intend only to please, to enchant our eyes, have nonetheless a profound and, as it were, metaphysical meaning....he abandons [the mobiles] in the wild: in a garden, by an open window he lets them vibrate in the wind like Aeolian harps. They feed on the air, breathe it and take their life from the indistinct life of the atmosphere.”i

     

    Magritte, The Spectacle of Nature, 1940. Sammlung Moderne Kunst, Pinakothek der Moderne, Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen, Munich, Image: bpk Bildagentur / Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen - Sammlung Moderne Kunst in der Pinakothek der Moderne München / Art Resource, NY
    René Magritte, The Spectacle of Nature, 1940. Sammlung Moderne Kunst, Pinakothek der Moderne, Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen, Munich, Image: bpk Bildagentur / Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen - Sammlung Moderne Kunst in der Pinakothek der Moderne München / Art Resource, NY

    Emulating Nature

    "[Their] marvellous swan-like nobility make Calder’s mobiles strange creatures, mid-way between matter and life….His mobiles are at once lyrical inventions, technical, almost mathematical combinations and the tangible symbol of Nature."
    —Jean-Paul Sartre

    [left] Joan Miró, Personnages dans la nuit guidés par les traces phosphorescentes des escargots from the series Constellations, 1941-1959. Musee National d'Art Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, Image: © CNAC/MNAM, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Art Resource, NY, Artwork: © Successió Miró / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris [right] Jean Arp, According to the Laws of Chance, 1933. Tate, London, Image: © Tate, London / Art Resource, NY, Artwork: © DACS, London / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
    [left] Joan Miró, Personnages dans la nuit guidés par les traces phosphorescentes des escargots from the series Constellations, 1941-1959. Musee National d'Art Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, Image: © CNAC/MNAM, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Art Resource, NY, Artwork: © Successió Miró / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris [right] Jean Arp, According to the Laws of Chance, 1933. Tate, London, Image: © Tate, London / Art Resource, NY, Artwork: © DACS, London / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

    Over the course of the next few decades, Calder’s sculptures continued to evolve towards invoking nature's unseen forces as he integrated increasingly organic forms to his mobiles. Recalling the biomorphic shapes of his Surrealist friends Joan Miró and Jean Arp, the crisp, sheet-metal elements in the present work flutter with streams of air, mimicking the effect of wind blowing through a tree. Here, Calder restricts his palette to solely black, distilling nature to its most basic form. Highlighting the rhythm of the natural world and freeing sculpture to interact with its environment, Fourteen Black Leaves epitomizes the artist’s vision, as he expressed in an interview from 1962, “You see nature and then you try to emulate it. The basis of everything for me is the universe….My whole theory about art is the disparity that exists between form, masses and movement.”ii

     

    Crafting Poetry

    "Then there is the idea of an object floating—not supported—the use of a very long thread as a long arm in cantilever as a means of support seems to best approximate this freedom of the earth."
    —Alexander Calder

    Calder at work in his studio, early 1960s. Image and Artwork: © 2021 Calder Foundation, New York / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
    Calder in his Roxbury studio, 1964. Image and Artwork: © 2021 Calder Foundation, New York / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

    A marker of Calder’s innovative craftsmanship channeled through his intuitive engineering skills, the lyrical simplicity of his works belie the complexity of their creation. Jed Perl observed, “How the shapes are connected affects their movements and their relationships....And the movement of any individual element in a mobile has everything to do with how its particular mass encounters some amount of energy.”iii In a recently released 1943 manuscript unpublished in Calder’s lifetime, the artist examined the core factors in the laws of physics—matter and energy—that preoccupied his art: “Wire, rods, sheet metal have strength, even in very attenuated forms, and respond quickly to whatever sort of work one may subject them to. Contrasts in mass or weight are feasible, too, according to the gauge, or to the kind of metal used, so that physical laws, as well as aesthetic concepts, can be held to. There is of course a close alliance between physics and aesthetics.”iv Calder, in his unique sensibility, “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,” as Perl articulated.v “This, is the miracle of [Calder’s] mobile.”vi

     

    A Composer of Motion

    "Why must art be static? You look at an abstraction, sculptured or painted, an intensely exciting arrangement of planes, spheres, nuclei, entirely without meaning. It would be perfect, but it is always still. The next step in sculpture is motion."
    —Alexander Calder 

    Paul Cadmus, Mobile (The Inventor), 1946. Image: © The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Image source: Art Resource, NY, Artwork: © 2021 Estate of Paul Cadmus
    Paul Cadmus, Mobile (The Inventor), 1946. Image: © The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Image source: Art Resource, NY, Artwork: © 2021 Estate of Paul Cadmus

    Created at the height of Calder’s career, the present work exemplifies the artist’s mature endeavors at kinetic abstractions, which Marcel Duchamp had coined as “mobiles” by the early 1930s. During his formative years in Paris, Calder visited Piet Mondrian’s studio in 1930—an experience that would forever change the course of Calder’s oeuvre as he relinquished figuration for pure abstraction.vii “I was very much moved by Mondrian’s studio,” the artist once reflected.  “I was particularly impressed by some rectangles of color he had tacked on the wall...I told him I would like to make them oscillate.”viii Beginning his investigations by utilizing cranks and electric motors to incorporate movement with his abstract forms, Calder refined his process by discarding mechanization and introducing the element of chance, allowing nature to be the source of motion, the artist its composer. In Calder’s words, “Just as one can compose colors, or forms, so one can compose motions.”ix

     

    Collector’s Digest

     

    Concurrent Institutional Show:

     

    New York, Museum of Modern Art, Alexander Calder: Modern from the Start, March 14 – August 7, 2021

     

    i Jean-Paul Sartre, Alexander Calder: Mobiles, Stabiles, Constellations, Galerie Louis Carré, Paris, p. 14.
    ii Alexander Calder, quoted in Katharine Kuh, “Alexander Calder,” in The Artist’s Voice: Talks with Seventeen Different Artists, New York, 1962, p. 39.

    iii Jed Perl, “Sensibility and Science,” in Calder and Abstraction: From Avant-Garde to Iconic, exh. cat., Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 2013, pp. 45-46.
    iv Alexander Calder, “A Propos of Measuring a Mobile,” in Alexander Calder: Modern from the Start, exh. cat., Museum of Modern Art, New York, 2021, p. 40.

    v Jed Perl, “Sensibility and Science,” in Calder and Abstraction: From Avant-Garde to Iconic, exh. cat., Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 2013, p. 49.

    vi Ibid.

    vii Alexander Calder, “Mobiles,” in Myfanwy Evans, ed., The Painter’s Object, London, 1937, p. 63.

    viii Alexander Calder, “What Abstract Art Means to Me,” The Museum of Modern Art Bulletin, vol. 18, no. 3, Spring 1951, p. 8.

    ix Alexander Calder, “Statement,” in Modern Painting and Sculpture: Alexander Calder, George L.K. Morris, Calvert Coggeshall, Alma de Gersdorff Morgan, exh. cat., Berkshiirie Museum, Pittsfield, 1933, n.p.

    • Provenance

      Galerie Maeght, Paris
      Brook St. Gallery, London (acquired from the above in 1964)
      Harold Diamond, New York
      Joseph H. Hirshhorn, Washington (acquired from the above in 1965)
      Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C.
      Sotheby’s, New York, November 11, 1988, lot 138A
      Perls Galleries, New York (acquired at the above sale)
      Private Collection, New York (acquired from the above)
      Private Collection, Los Angeles (acquired from the above in 2012)
      Sotheby’s, London, October 5, 2017, lot 29
      Acquired at the above sale by the present owner

    • Artist Biography

      Alexander Calder

      American • 1898 - 1976

      One of the most significant artists of the 20th century, Alexander Calder defied gravity and breathed life into sculpture with his innovative and enrapturing approach. Producing art over a fifty-year span, Calder created a body of work that is impressive both for its breadth and diversity as well as for its universal mastery of form and space. Calder is perhaps best known for his enchanting series of mobiles, kinetic sculptures that float gracefully in space, but he also created a series of monumental yet airy stabiles, massive abstract forms that are bound to the earth, and was a prolific draftsman, painter, printmaker, and creator of jewelry, ornament, and ephemera. Calder’s work on an intimate scale is as impressive as his monumental sculpture.

      Calder’s work is well represented in the world’s most prestigious arts institutions and he is universally regarded as one of the touchstones of the 20th century avant-garde; his work is routinely exhibited in single retrospectives across the globe, and Calder himself will receive his own institution in his native Philadelphia, which will be designed as a “sanctuary” by leading architectural firm Herzog & de Meuron.

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Property from a Prominent Private Collection

Ο ◆30

Fourteen Black Leaves

incised with the artist's monogram and date “CA 61” on the largest element
sheet metal, wire and paint
11 3/4 x 41 3/4 x 20 1/2 in. (29.8 x 106 x 52.1 cm)
Executed in 1961.

This work is registered in the archives of The Calder Foundation, New York, under application number A01839.

Full Cataloguing

Estimate
$2,000,000 - 3,000,000 

Sold for $2,300,000

Contact Specialist

Amanda Lo Iacono
Head of Auctions
New York
+1 212 940 1278

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20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York Auction 23 June 2021