Alexander Calder - 20th c. and Contemporary Art Day Sale - Morning Session New York Tuesday, December 8, 2020 | Phillips
  • Distinguished by its elemental simplicity and delicate lyricism, Alexander Calder’s standing mobile Untitled, circa 1950, distills the elegance-in-motion of the artist’s most memorable works into an intimate and personal scale. Untitled seemingly defies gravity as it balances precipitously on the peak of its pyramidal base; at one end, a soaring tendril ornamented with two discs—one white and one black—is mirrored by the large red counterweight at the other, perfectly balancing the work both physically and visually and imbuing it with a dramatic sense of weightlessness. Executed circa 1950, shortly before Calder’s success representing the United States at the 1953 Venice Biennale, Untitled achieves a striking visual effect through its poetic equilibrium of both space and form, brought to life in three dimensions.


    Motion as Poetry


    “Just as one can compose colors, or forms, so one can compose motions,” remarked Calder in the early 1930s about his moving artworks.i While his early training as a mechanical engineer surely informed the creation of his mobiles, Calder rather viewed his kinetic sculptures in terms of poetry or music. Lamenting the stationary nature of art and the monotony of mechanized movement, Calder sought an opportunity to breathe life into his work and began to experiment with incorporating motion into his practice as early as the 1930s.

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

    The “standing mobiles,” a term coined by Calder’s friend and peer Marcel Duchamp and of which Untitled is an example, interact with atmospheric elements like the wind or a soft touch to set off into their smooth and gentle orbits; these works enabled Calder to distill his style and artistic interests into their most elemental forms and imbued each sculpture with the silent music of motion as it floats blithely through the air. 


    Alexander Calder in his Roxbury studio, 1964. Photograph by Andreas Feininger, Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona, Courtesy of The Andreas Feininger Estate, Artwork © 2020 Calder Foundation, New York / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

    The Universe in Microcosm


    Untitled is a delightfully delicate artwork, creating an unforgettable visual effect as it rotates gracefully in space with an elegant economy of means. Despite its relative simplicity, however, Untitled encapsulates another of Calder’s foremost artistic fixations, and the conceptual touchstone for all his mobiles: The Universe. Discussing his mobiles in the early 1930s, Calder remarked, “The various objects of the Universe may be constant, at times, but their reciprocal relationships always vary.”ii 

    "The underlying sense of form in my work has been the system of the Universe, or part thereof. For that is a rather large model to work from." —Alexander Calder 

    In Untitled, one must think of the same paradoxical balance, of planets orbiting celestial bodies, their immense masses and unrelenting inertias brought into equilibrium with one another through their relationship to the greater system. Just as planets circle the sun in silent grace, so, too, do the sculpture’s ornaments orbit Untitled in the utmost synchronization as the artwork rests in absolute balance atop the precipice of its base, translating the elemental movement of the Universe into more human terms.


    i Alexander Calder, 1933, quoted in Jed Pearl, Calder, The Conquest of Time, New York, 2017, p. 50
    ii Alexander Calder, quoted in “Que ça bouge–À propos des sculptures mobil”, March 8, 1932, unpublished manuscript, Archives of the Calder Foundation, New York, online 

    • Provenance

      Barbara Levinson, New York
      The Estate of Barbara Levinson
      Christie's, New York, November 9, 2011, lot 601
      Ruth O'Hara, New York (acquired at the above sale)

    • Exhibited

      New York, James Goodman Gallery, Calder: Space in Play, October 22 – December 19, 2014

    • 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 Estate of Ruth O’Hara



sheet metal, wire and paint
20 1/2 x 13 x 2 in. (52.1 x 33 x 5.1 cm)
Executed circa 1950, this work is registered in the archives of the Calder Foundation, New York, under application number A25249.

Full Cataloguing

$350,000 - 500,000 

Sold for $315,000

Contact Specialist

John McCord
Head of Day Sale, Morning Session
New York
+1 212 940 1261

20th c. and Contemporary Art Day Sale - Morning Session

New York 8 December 2020