Alexander Calder - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale London Wednesday, October 21, 2020 | Phillips

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  • Alexander Calder and Yves Klein’s Poetic Approach to Colour and Space


    Comprising five delicate sculptures by the American sculptor Alexander Calder and an idiosyncratically saturated blue sponge by the French artist Yves Klein, the following Property from an Important Private Collection, Paris offers a poetic meditation on the properties of colour, balance and space.


    Executed between 1953 and 1975, Calder’s untitled works illustrate the artist’s two quintessential sculptural manifestations: the stabile and the mobile. 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 ‘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). 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.


    Following 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] Brancusi, [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, n.p.). 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’ a year prior.


    Drenched in vibrant red, yellow and black hues, the four Calder works were notably executed at a time when Calder’s poetic vision was gaining increasing critical attention, with major retrospectives taking place in esteemed institutions including 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 shows 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.

    'In working on my pictures in my studio, I sometimes used sponges. They became blue very quickly, obviously! One day I noticed the beauty of the blue in the sponge; at once this working tool became raw material for me. It is that extraordinary faculty of the sponge to become impregnated with whatever may be fluid that seduced me.' —Yves Klein

    An elegant, simple, yet metaphysical object, Yves Klein’s Sculpture Éponge bleue sans titre (SE 281) is a sumptuous example of the artist’s pioneering Sculptures Éponges (Sponge Sculptures). ‘The sponge has that extraordinary capacity to absorb and become impregnated with whatever fluid, which was naturally very seductive to me’, the artist explained. ‘Thanks to the natural and living nature of sponges, I was able to make portraits to the readers of my monochromes, which, after having seen and travelled into the blue of my paintings, returned from them completely impregnated with sensibility, just as the sponges’ (Yves Klein, Overcoming the Problematics of Art: The Writings of Yves Klein, New York 2007, p. 23). Embarking on what he called his ‘Blue Revolution’, Klein coined the ultramarine colour that he would subsequently register under his name: ‘International Klein Blue’, or ‘IKB’. In Sculpture Éponge bleue sans titre (SE 281), the object’s beautiful sponge material emulates a flowering form and imbues the work with elevated, spiritual associations.

    • Provenance

      Claudine Marie, Paris (gifted by the artist in Paris in 1964)
      Jean-Pierre Zambito, Paris (acquired from the above in 2001)
      Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2002

    • Exhibited

      Paris, Hôtel Dassault, Calder, l' équilibre poétique, 1 July - 11 September 2005, p. 6 (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 from An Important Private Collection, Paris



sheet metal, brass, wire and paint, in 2 parts
15.5 x 12 x 10 cm (6 1/8 x 4 3/4 x 3 7/8 in.)
Executed circa 1953, this work is registered in the archives of the Calder Foundation, New York, under application number A18319.

Full Cataloguing

£200,000 - 300,000 

Sold for £453,600

Contact Specialist

Tamila Kerimova
Specialist, Head of Day Sale, Director

20th Century & Contemporary Art

+44 20 7318 4065

20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale

London Auction 21 October 2020