Alexander Calder - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale New York Thursday, November 15, 2018 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Galerie Maeght, Paris
    Waddington Galleries, London (acquired from the above in June 1982)
    Acquired from the above by the present owner on November 11, 1982

  • Catalogue Essay

    Celebrating a lifetime of innovation, Alexander Calder’s Conique noir, 1973, is an exceptional example of the artist’s investigation of space, volume and color. A distinct work within Calder’s oeuvre for its conical shaped base, it expands upon earlier works such as The Cone, 1960, Albright-Knox Gallery, Buffalo, and Conique rouge, 1972. As with these works, Calder has fused his iconic sculptural archetypes of the stabile and the mobile into a singular, impeccably balanced work in his signature palette of black, white, and red. The stabile consists of a conical, void shape, its black exterior revealing a rich interior that is painted in a fiery red. Resting atop the cone’s pointed zenith is the mobile portion – a red horizontal rod which balances large white biomorphic discs on either side via delicate wire rods.

    “Just as one can compose colors, or forms,” Calder wrote in 1933, “so one can compose motions” (Alexander Calder, 1933, quoted in Jed Pearl, Calder, The Conquest of Time, New York, 2017, p. 507). It was in 1930 that Calder made the radical transition from his circus-themed wire figures to abstract constructions, which would set in motion his kinetic revolution of sculpture. Calder developed his artistic sensibility in the heady climate of 1920s Paris, where he became a fully-fledged member of the European art world. It was there that he encountered the work of Joan Miró and Piet Mondrian. The sight of seeing Mondrian’s colored shapes floating unframed on the wall inspired Calder to begin his own experiments of abstraction, but it was perhaps above all his deep friendship and dialogue with Miró that helped him elaborate and develop his trailblazing ideas concerning balance and motion over the years.

    It is indeed telling that when Calder’s mobiles were exhibited at his second show at the Pierre Matisse Gallery in 1936, critics were quick to point out the parallels to Miró’s art: “They are very much like Miró abstractions come to life” (Emily Genauer, “Calder’s Mobiles”, New York World-Telegram, February 15, 1936). Indeed, with its organic shapes, whimsical lines and allusion to the imaginary, Conique noir appears like the sculptural realization of the organic forms teeming in Miró’s fantastical compositions. Though Miró also briefly focused on creating sculptures during his hiatus from painting in 1931, Calder pushed his objects into poetic regions that no other artist before him had ventured into – going even beyond Pablo Picasso’s sculptures of 1928 that were lauded as “drawing in space”. Leaving the two-dimensional pictorial surface behind, Calder blazed ahead into the four-dimensional realm, adding time to the classic three dimensions. Equipped with his impeccable engineering skills, he crucially invented the two sculptural archetypes of the “stabile” and the “mobile” in the early 1930s that he would continue to elaborate on and refine throughout the ensuing four decades.

    Conique noir accomplishes Calder’s goal of expressing both stillness and dynamic movement in one artwork by fusing the stabile and mobile, a combination Calder had started consistently exploring since the 1940s. As he explained, “The mobile has actual movement in it itself, while the stabile is back at the old painting idea of implied movement. You have to walk around a stabile or through it – a mobile dances in front of you” (Alexander Calder, 1960, quoted in Motion-Emotion: The Art of Alexander Calder, exh. cat., O’Hara Gallery, New York, 1999, n.p.). While a similar push and pull permeates Conique noir, its conical stabile heightens the effect of implied movement to the extent that it appears to lift above the ground.

    The cone is a rare shape to occur in Calder’s oeuvre. While the shape featured as a solid wooden form in Cône d'ébène, 1933, widely regarded as one of his very first mobiles, it appears that Calder only started to revisit it some three decades later with the stabile, The Cone, 1960. While that earlier sculpture consisted of two conical portions placed atop of each other, Conique noir and its sister work Conique rouge, 1972, consist of a single sheet of bent metal – giving rise to an unadulterated sense of upward movement.

    Representing the more intimate pendant to the large-scale commissioned public sculptures Calder created throughout the 1960s until his death in 1976, Conique noir points to Calder’s playful engagement with paraphrased ideas regarding the Space Age. Its dynamism and red interior recalls stabiles such as Rocket, 1964, and particularly Obus, 1972, National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C., which presented the rough shape of a rocket launcher with fire-engine red flames spurting from its side. Calder’s imaginative works often seem to exude a whimsical optimism, yet, as recent scholarship has pointed out there are also oblique political undertones that reflect Calder’s increasingly public anti-war activism in the 1960s and 1970s. Seen in this light, intriguing parallels begin to arise between Conique noir and Miró’s Femme dans la nuit, 1945, a whimsical yet deeply existential distillation of pure line and color. Testimony to a lifetime of innovation, Conique noir epitomizes Calder’s pioneering mastery of a new genre – one which by the time of the work’s creation had firmly cemented his stature as one of the most important sculptors of the 20th century.

  • 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 an Important Belgian Collector


Conique noir

incised with the artist’s monogram and date “CA 73” on the upper left white element; further incised with the artist's monogram and date "CA 72" on the left side of the base
sheet metal, wire and paint
overall 42 1/2 x 39 x 25 in. (108 x 99.1 x 63.5 cm.)
Executed in 1973, this work is registered in the archives of the Calder Foundation, New York, under application number A11622.

$1,200,000 - 1,800,000 

Sold for $1,335,000

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

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York Auction 15 November 2018