Alexander Calder (1898-1976)
Property from the Collection of Max Palevsky
Alexander Calder (1898-1976)

Tableau noir (The Blackboard)

Alexander Calder (1898-1976)
Tableau noir (The Blackboard)
signed with initials and dated 'CA 70' (on the blue element)
stabile--painted sheet metal
140 x 145 x 140 in. (355.6 x 368.3 x 355.6 cm.)
Executed in 1970.
Perls Galleries, New York
Acquired from the above by the late owner, 1970
A. Betsky, Three California Houses: The Homes of Max Palevsky, New York, 2002, pp. 38, 44, 50-54, and 57-59 (illustrated in color).


This work is registered in the archives of the Calder Foundation, New York, under the application number A12626.

Tableau noir (the Blackboard), a monumental and joyous sculpture, forms a cornerstone of Max Palevsky's collection and stands as a lasting monument to an artist who dedicated his life to redefining the status quo and forging new ways of solving very modern problems. The Blackboard contains many of Alexander Calder's signature motifs - his embrace of color, his intense interest in structure and an added touch of whimsy, all combined into an outstanding work. One of the earliest sculptures Calder fabricated in France, his new environment inspired him to embark on a radical change of direction, and Tableau Noir succinctly demonstrates his versatility and helps to explain his enduring appeal to modern art connoisseurs.

Calder's Tableau noir (the Blackboard) combines vertical and angled elements to produce a work of dazzling intensity, with its triumvirate of colorful upright structures soaring towards the sky. Using the skills he acquired as an engineer, Calder combines several seemingly contradictory visual elements into a single work which celebrates how it was constructed and defies centuries of artistic illusion. With gravity-defying dexterity, Calder delicately balances a large black panel on multicolored supports, replicating the school blackboards of his childhood. He adopts a magical tone, embellishing the necessary structural nuts-and-bolts with a magical constellation of primary-colored paint, mimicking colored chalk pieces as they sparkle against their dark background.

Alexander Calder's large outdoor works culminate his lifelong dedication to redefining sculpture's physical and aesthetic nature. Having spent his career introducing color and movement into the previously static and monochromatic medium, during his last twenty years Calder found new inspiration in increasing scale. Larger scale works attracted Calder more and more, because they allowed him not only to introduce his sculptural ideas to a larger public but also to work on a different set of processes and challenges. "There has been an agrandissement in my work," Calder said in 1960. "It's true that I've more or less retired from the smaller mobiles. I regard them as just fiddling. The engineering on the big objects is important" (A. Calder, quoted in M. Prather, Alexander Calder 1898-1976, exh. cat., Washington, D.C., 1998, p. 279).

Tableau noir (the Blackboard) demonstrates Calder's undisputed excitement in this new creative process. Its self-confident angles and bright primary colors all trumpet his delight in exploring and pushing the artistic boundaries between a form and the space it occupies. Calder broke with centuries of tradition and removed the artwork from its traditional home on the wall or the pedestal. This new freedom allowed him to introduce greater dimensions and sophistication into his artistic forms.

Color was a very important element in Calder's work and Tableau noir (the Blackboard) superbly demonstrates the very heart of his color philosophy. For Calder, color was not decorative but an intrinsic part of the composition. He used color to distinguish elements from each other. 'I want things to be differentiated. Black and white are first - then red is nextI often wish that I had been a fauve in 1905" (A. Calder, Calder, London, 2004, p. 89). We can also see his vibrant use of vivid colors in the context of wider art movements. Executed when Pop Art and Minimalism were displacing Abstract Expressionism, Calder's outdoor work broke down the traditional barriers between high and low art and engaged the public. He enthusiastically embraced bold and vibrant colors, foreshadowing the all-out visual assault of artists like Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein. His large outdoor sculptures were already public-sized. Calder popularized sculpture, removing it from the static restraints and plinths that had constrained it for centuries. He used metal, as opposed to marble or stone, and this foreshadowed the materiality that so captured the imagination of later Minimalist artists.

Like Calder, Max Palevsky had an engineering background and trained in mathematics and engineering. We can see Palevsky's keen intellect and his passion for mathematics and philosophy in his magnificent collection. Tableau noir (the Blackboard) embodies Calder's rigorous intellectual and technical discipline, and it is easy to see why Palevsky so appreciated the artist's sense of order and symmetry. The vibrant color palette combines with this work's strong structural integrity, showing Calder's skill as an artist and materializing his anti-theoretical brand of abstraction. Tableau noir (the Blackboard) represents perfectly the beautiful simplicity of Calder's art, summed up by a comment he made to an interviewer before his death, "I want to make things that are fun to look at" (A. Calder, quoted in M. Prather, Alexander Calder 1898-1976, exh. cat., Washington, D.C., 1998, p. 279).