Alexander Calder (1898-1976)
The Tuttleman Collection
Alexander Calder (1898-1976)


Alexander Calder (1898-1976)
hanging mobile—sheet metal, wire and paint
41 x 61 x 30 in. (104.1 x 154.9 x 76.2 cm.)
Executed in 1950.
Patricia Coffin, New York, 1950, acquired directly from the artist
Lindsay Coffin, Connecticut, by descent from the above
Acquired from the above by the present owner


This work is registered in the archives of the Calder Foundation, New York, under application number A16735.

Alexander Calder’s Untitled, created in 1950, is at once dramatic and delicate, and an accomplished example of the celebrated mobiles that he created over the course of his career. Its composition, animated below the blue circle at its apex, is exceptional in its ability to manifest equilibrium coupled with a graceful asymmetry. On one side, the colorful red and yellow segments spray out in a densely composed series of organic shapes, which together could function as their own freestanding mobile. But what completes the dramatic and magical balance of this work is how the second portion, composed of black and white elements, then serves as an elegant and airy counterpoint to the colored section. The outstretched arm of thin, long black shapes is punctuated by a series of three white circles above it, seemingly reaching upwards, and bringing the eye back full circle to the blue disc on top.

Calder and his use of color have rightly been celebrated, and in the case of this work we see how this provides its own sense of painterly motion that complements the physical motion of the mobile. Even when immobile, it suggests graceful movement and lyrical gesture that is then accentuated as a light breeze causes the colorful section to start dancing towards the black and white section. When viewed from other angles, the two sections merge into an entirely new composition, where color can overlap with black and white, recalling an ephemeral series of endless perspectives through motion. “I have chiefly limited myself to the use of black and white as being the most disparate colors,” Calder once said. “Red is the color most opposed to both of these—and then, finally, the other primaries” (A. Calder, “What Abstract Art Means to Me,” Museum of Modern Art Bulletin 18, no. 3 (Spring 1951), p. 8). The artist’s words here perfectly sum up how his use of color is so expertly balanced in the present work. The uppermost blue circle, which seems almost like an eye, perfectly contrasts with the warmth of the red and yellow and the calm neutrality of the black and white section. The care and precision with which Calder has put into how each shape’s outline and scale plays off the others is evident throughout. The blue circle is the most symmetrically rounded portion, while the red shapes below it blossom outward in various organic incarnations, and are then punctuated by a single bold yellow triangle. Meanwhile, the black shapes, which are at the lowest point in the sculpture almost suggest a grounding and connection the earth in their shallow width, while the bright white circles point to the sky. The sum of the parts creates a graceful whole, where the most delicate of shapes contrast with the bolder ones, and where color and the air in the negative space dance around each other, all suspended by an intricate series of wires, themselves in contrasting tones.

Much has been written about Calder’s experience in Mondrian’s studio in October 1930. In his own words, Calder noted that “I was very much moved by Mondrian’s studio… large, beautiful, and irregular in shape as it was, with the walls painted white and divided by black lines and rectangles of bright color like his paintings. It was very lovely, with a cross-light (there were windows on both sides), and I thought at the time how fine it would be if everything there moved” (A. Calder quoted in B. Rose A Salute to Alexander Calder sculpture, watercolors and drawings, prints, illustrated books and jewelry in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art, exh. cat., Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1969, p. 10). Indeed, in the years following that fateful meeting, Calder continued to develop beautiful mobiles where we can sense the ways in which the colors, irregular walls, and glowing light of the studio informed his work. With his mobiles, Calder could manifest the purity of his experience and the ingenuity of his own imagination in merging colors, shapes, and movement, to create his own form of visual poetry.

By 1950, Calder’s mobiles had become celebrated on both sides of the Atlantic. Following a large retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art in 1943, and an exhibition at the Galerie Carré in Paris in 1946, Calder had become renowned for his innovative visual language, so much so that they even came to be associated with his name under the word “mobile” in the 1954 edition of Webster’s New International Dictionary. That his mobiles were so well received in both America and Europe speaks to the universality of their design. Possessing ties to great European artists from the first half of the 20th Century, from Mondrian to Miró, Arp, Léger, and others, as well as occurring in tandem with Abstract Expressionism, which was on the rise in New York at the time, the structure and fluidity of Calder’s mobiles was truly international. At the same time, his commitment to developing and enhancing his signature visual language meant that he has consistently occupied a singular space in the canon of 20th century.

The French philosopher, writer, and cultural figure Jean-Paul Sartre was one of many notable characters to become enamored with Calder’s mobiles and their otherworldly nature. In describing this body of the artist’s oeuvre for the catalogue of the 1946 Galerie Carré exhibition, Sartre described the works in these thoughtful terms: “A Mobile: a little local fiesta; an object defined by its movement and non-existent without it; a flower that withers as soon as it comes to a standstill; a pure stream of movement in the same way as there are pure streams of light” (J. P. Sartre, “Les Mobiles de Calder”, from Alexander Calder: Mobiles, Stabiles, Constellations, exh. cat., Paris, Galerie Louis Carré, 1946, pp. 9–19. English translation by Chris Turner, from The Aftermath of War: Jean-Paul Sartre, Calcutta, Seagull, 2008). This purity of form, and quasi-ephemerality, evident in the present work is at once timeless and emblematic of Calder’s monumental contribution to artistic progress in the 20th century.

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