Alexander Calder - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale New York Wednesday, May 18, 2022 | Phillips
  • "You see nature and then you try to emulate it…The simplest forms in the universe are the sphere and the circle. I represent them by discs and then I vary them. My whole theory about art is the disparity that exists between form, masses and movement."
    —Alexander Calder

    Executed in 1959, Alexander Calder’s 39=50 is a magnificent example of the artist’s unique ability to capture both the harmony and tension innate in the natural world and its forms. Part of Calder’s highly coveted series of Snow Flurry mobiles, the work comprises 39 white discs that delicately flutter in space in a masterful triumph of balance and kinetic poetry. 39=50’s cascading discs, like the natural forces they so poetically engage, dance before the viewer’s eyes as the slightest gust of air or beam of light arouses the sculpture’s infinite visual possibilities. Arriving to auction for the first time in over 25 years, 39=50 notably featured in Calder’s major 1960s retrospective at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, Milwaukee Art Center, Wisconsin, and Musée National d’Art Moderne, Paris—the most comprehensive exhibition on the artist at the time.


    Calder with an early Snow Flurry mobile in Herbert Matter’s Works of Calder, 1950.  


    Around the Globe: Snow Flurries and Related Works

  • In the 1940s and 1950s, Calder created a series of Snow Flurry mobiles inspired by snowfalls at his home in Roxbury and resonant notions of ephemerality. The series of works is designated by their snow-related titles (typically Snow Flurry or Blizzard) and white-painted sheet metal discs suspended on wire, the elements decreasing in size as they move further away from the vertex of the composition. The Snow Flurry mobiles have established formidable institutional interest, with works residing in institutions across North America, South America, and Europe. Though the present work is distinguished from the series with its distinct title, the present work maintains Calder’s “Snow Flurry” design and is part of this series.


    Music of the Spheres

    "Poet of movement, poet of the sky, his mobiles twist, turn, revolve—or remain immobile awaiting the wind’s embrace—in a marriage of motion and unity. To ask what is a Calder is to ask what is a composition of Mozart."
    —Peter Bellew

    Calder with the present work (top left) at the installation of Calder, Musée National d’Art Moderne, Paris, 1965. Artwork: © 2022 Calder Foundation, New York/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

    39=50’s singular title encapsulates both the number of elements and the intimate story behind the work’s journey from the artist’s studio. Calder’s close friend, Peter Bellew, requested a mobile with 50 white elements in celebration of his wife’s 50th birthday. Since the artist did not have a sculpture with 50 elements available, he gave the present work to Bellew with its current title. “To be in Calder’s studio is like attending the rehearsal of a symphony orchestra,” Bellew once remarked. “The air is charged with fragments of music.”i 39=50 embodies this musical quality, the visual cadence evoking Calder’s love of music and jazz through the meticulous arrangement of elements. The lyrical precision, lush dynamism, and organic vocabulary seen in 39=50 exquisitely conjure the concept of “music of the spheres,” as the discs elegantly oscillating to the inherent rhythms of nature.


    Monochrome in 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

    [left] Lucio Fontana, Concetto spaziale, Attese, 1965. Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York. Image: The Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation / Art Resource, NY, Artwork: © 2022 Fondation Lucio Fontana/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York [right] Robert Ryman, Chapter, 1981. Musée National d’Art Moderne, Centre Pompidou, Paris. Image: © CNAC/MNAM, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Art Resource, NY, Artwork: © Robert Ryman / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York


    Within a lineage of “all-white” compositions by artists across the 20th century canon, the present work is a testament to Calder’s creative ingenuity that revolutionized Modernist sculpture. Notably originating with Kazimir Malevich’s Suprematist Composition: White on White, 1918, the white monochrome has been explored by painters and sculptors as diverse as Robert Ryman, Lucio Fontana, Piero Manzoni, Robert Rauschenberg, and Yayoi Kusama, among many others, to achieve the ultimate manifestation of abstraction. For Calder, deploying monochrome as seen in 39=50 was a means to channel his lifelong captivation with the forces of the universe by distilling nature to its most basic color and form through abstraction—in motion. A breathtaking expression of Calder’s visionary practice, 39=50 perfectly captures the artist’s famous words: “When everything goes right a mobile is a piece of poetry that dances with the joy of life and surprise.”ii


    Collector’s Digest


    39=50 is the first sculpture with Calder’s “Snow Flurry” design to come to auction in a decade. In 2012, Snow Flurry (1950) sold for $10,386,500 in New York—the highest price ever achieved for a hanging mobile at the time and currently within the artist’s top 10 auction records to date.

    • The artist with the present work graces the cover of Calder’s autobiography (see below).



    Cover of Alexander Calder, Calder: An Autobiography with Pictures, New York, 1966. Artwork: © 2022 Calder Foundation, New York/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York


    i Peter Bellew, Calder, Secaucus, 1969, p. 9.
    ii Alexander Calder, quoted in Jean Lipman, Calder’s Universe, exh. cat., Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, 1977, p. 261. 

    • Provenance

      Peter Bellew and Hélène Kirsova, Paris (acquired directly from the artist in 1961)
      Ib Bellew, London (by descent from the above)
      Christie's, London, June 24, 1993, lot 68
      François Pinault, France (acquired at the above sale)
      Private Collection, New York (acquired circa 2007)
      Acquired from the above by the present owner

    • Exhibited

      New York, The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum (no. 165, p. 100); Milwaukee Art Center, Alexander Calder: A Retrospective Exhibition; then travelled as Paris, Musée National d'Art Moderne (no. 182, p. 39), Calder, November 6, 1964–October 15, 1965
      Berlin, Akademie der Künste, Alexander Calder, May 21–July 16, 1967, no. 28, p. 41
      Munich, Haus der Kunst (no. 47, p. 55); Kunsthaus Zürich (no. 43, p. 46), Calder, May 10–November 2, 1975

    • Literature

      Alexander Calder, Calder: An Autobiography with Pictures, New York, 1977 (Musée National d'Art Moderne, Paris, 1965, installation view with the artist illustrated on the front cover)
      Alexandre Calder en Touraine, exh. cat., Château de Tours, Tours, 2008, p. 89 (Musée National d'Art Moderne, Paris, 1965, installation view with the artist illustrated)

    • 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 of a Private Collector



incised with the artist's monogram "CA" on one of the elements
sheet metal, wire and paint
47 x 102 x 5 in. (119.4 x 259.1 x 12.7 cm)
Executed in 1959, this work is registered in the archives of the Calder Foundation, New York, under application number A03753.

Full Cataloguing

$10,500,000 - 14,500,000 

Sold for $15,648,500

Contact Specialist

Amanda Lo Iacono
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20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York Auction 18 May 2022