Alexander Calder - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale London Wednesday, June 26, 2019 | Phillips
  • Provenance

    Estate of the Artist
    The Pace Gallery, New York
    Acquired from the above by the present owners in 1986

  • Exhibited

    New York, M. Knoedler & Co., Inc., Alexander Calder: Standing Mobiles, 4 December 1980 - 2 January 1981, p. 12 (illustrated)
    St. Louis, Greenberg Gallery and Missouri Botanical Garden, Calder in Retrospect, 1 September - 2 October 1983, p. 5 (illustrated, cover)
    New York, The Pace Gallery, Calder’s Calders: Selected Works from the Artist's Collection, 3 May - 8 June 1985, pp. 42-43 (illustrated)

  • Literature

    Mike Venezia, Getting to Know the World’s Greatest Artists: Alexander Calder, New York, 1998, p. 26 (illustrated)

  • Catalogue Essay

    Presenting Alexander Calder’s most celebrated innovations in a single elegant sculptural mass, Two Moons, 1969, stands halfway between a ‘mobile’ and a ‘stabile’, the artist’s two most important sculptural manifestations. Supported by a solid, swirling base, the sculpture extends its arms into thin girating rods and wires above, adopting the shape of an indistinct biomorphic creature able to energise its human surroundings. The construction’s multicoloured base is counterbalanced by a duality of black and yellow hues on either side of the sculpture’s upper half, lifted and suspended from the work's serpentine skeleton. A study in spatial arrangements and chromatic multiplicity, Two Moons provides the viewer with an experience akin to star-gazing: the slow orbiting of the two upper elements and the chromatic vibrancy of the supporting structure, evoke the mystifying appearance of stars as they travel through the inky depths of the cosmos. With idiosyncratic grace and delicacy, Calder’s abstractions propel their architectural shell into a celestial realm that removes them from perceived notions of space and time.

    Calder developed his exquisitely graceful artistic universe over the course of six prolific decades. Having begun his career in the mid-1920s, he was the son of a well-known sculptor who himself came from a family of successful artists. Not long after graduating with a degree in mechanical engineering, Calder served as a fireman in the boiler room on the passenger ship H.F. Alexander - an experience during which he spent most of his nights on deck observing the sea and sky. With a new appreciation for the natural forces and shapes surrounding him, he contemplatively described his experience of observing the sun and moon with a renewed eye: ‘It was early one morning on a calm sea, off Guatemala, when over my couch—a coil of rope—I saw the beginning of a fiery red sunrise on one side and the moon looking like a silver coin on the other’ (Alexander Calder, An Autobiography With Pictures, New York, 1966, pp. 54-55). By the time he executed the present work, Calder’s poetic vision was gaining increasing critical attention, with major retrospectives in such esteemed institutions as the Guggenheim Museum in New York, 1964, the Museum of Fine Arts, in Houston, 1964, and the Musée National d'Art Moderne in Paris, 1965. These anticipated his solo exhibition at the Fondation Maeght in 1969, and his seminal retrospective at the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, in 1976.

    As expressed by Jean-Paul Sartre in a 1946 essay celebrating Calder’s prodigious artistic energy, ‘If it is true that in sculpture movement must be cut into the motionless, then it would be an error to relate Calder’s art to sculpture’ (Jean-Paul Sartre, ‘Existentialist on Mobilist’, December 1947, online). Ceaselessly animating the space they occupy, Calder’s ‘mobiles’ and ‘stabiles’ resemble materialised levitations. They challenge the sculptural medium’s traditions of staticity and conventional presentation, and, - whether designed to hang from ceilings, stand on grounded supports, or remain static in natural settings - they echo Sartre’s claim that by definition, they are in fact anything but sculptures. Two Moons is an excellent example of this phenomelogically-inclined – and fundamentally atypical – practice. Though its physical shell is composed of industrial materials such as metal sheets, rods, and wires, its overall appearance resists the outward aspect of man-made structures and instead comes closer to an assemblage of natural, cosmic elements. When asked by Katharine Kuh what influenced him more between nature and modern machinery, Calder replied: ‘Nature. I haven’t really touched machinery except for a few elementary mechanisms like levers and balances. You see nature and then you try to emulate it’ (Alexander Calder, quoted in ‘Alexander Calder’, The Artist’s Voice: Talks with Seventeen Artists, New York, 1962, online). Candidly engaging the dynamic energies that populate the outside world, Calder creates works that are akin to crystallised poems, or drawings in space.

    Yet in order to execute his ethereal visions and project them in real space, the artist followed a meticulous method enacted through the careful use and manipulation of a particular set of materials. ‘Calder's characteristic material is metal’, wrote James Johnson Sweeney. ‘He has always avoided modelling in favour of direct handling - cutting, shaping with a hammer, or assembling piece by piece. Such an approach has fostered a simplicity of form and clarity of contour in his work. It allies him with [Constantin] Brâncuși, [Jean] Arp, [Henry] Moore and [Alberto] Giacometti in their repudiation of virtuosity’ (James Johnson Sweeney, Alexander Calder, exh. cat., Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1951, np). Standing within the ranks of such seminal modern figures, who Sweeney contends are Calder’s conceptual kin, the artist furthermore shared close relationships with a number of artists who informed his own practice. Among close friends, the artist counted Arp, who came up with the linguistic contraction ‘stabile’ in 1932, and Marcel Duchamp, who coined the term ‘mobile’ the previous year.

    Like Arp, Calder shared the tendency to employ an organic language in his work. Straddling smooth abstraction and allusive figuration, both of the artists' oeuvres offer a visual language that appears incredibly simple yet conceals great labour and precision. A highly poetic trait equally loomed Joan Miró's work, who shared a lifelong friendship with Calder. Having met in 1928, Miró and Calder kept intense proximities until an old age. Both artists created independent ‘Constellation’ series in the early 1940s - in Calder’s case the name for his open compositions having been proposed by Sweeney and Duchamp. ‘Well, the archaeologists will tell you there’s a little bit of Miró in Calder and a little bit of Calder in Miró’ wrote Calder. Where Miró dotted his paintings with ideograms, including natural protagonists such as birds, moons, stars, and flowers, Calder invoked abstract elements in order to most potently echo the idea of lively embodiment with which he imparted his sculptural works. In Two Moons, the small yellow elements kinetically gyrating with the force of the wind, the conviction of a breath, or the swirl of a movement, aptly illustrate Calder’s belief that art emerges upon the convergence of myriad factors: ‘volumes, motion, spaces bounded by the great space, the universe’ (Alexander Calder, quoted in Abstraction-Création, Art Non Figuratif, no. 1, Paris, 1932).

  • 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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Two Moons

incised with the artist's monogram and date 'CA 69' on the base
sheet metal, wire and paint
76.2 x 121.9 x 45.7 cm (30 x 48 x 18 in.)
Executed in 1969, this work is registered in the archives of the Calder Foundation, New York, under application number A00710.

£500,000 - 700,000 

Sold for £711,000

Contact Specialist

Rosanna Widén

Director, Senior Specialist
Head of Evening Sale, 20th Century & Contemporary Art

44 20 7318 4060

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 27 June 2019