ALEXANDER CALDER (1898-1976) Maripose, 1960

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Lot 111
Maripose, 1960

Sold for US$ 1,805,000 inc. premium

Contemporary Art

12 Nov 2013, 13:00 EST

New York

Maripose, 1960
inscribed with the artist's monogram and dated 'CA 60' (on the largest element)
hanging mobile-painted sheet metal and wire
30 x 67in. (76.2 x 167.64cm)


    Perls Gallery, New York.
    Irving Galleries, Milwaukee.
    Private Collection, Milwaukee (acquired from the above in 1976).
    By descent from the above to the present owner in 1988.

    Milwaukee, Milwaukee Art Museum, Hidden Treasures: Wisconsin Collects Painting and Sculpture, 11 September-1 November 1987.

    This work is registered in the archives of the Calder Foundation, New York, under application no. A02017.

    "I want to make things that are fun to look at, that have no propaganda value whatsoever." (A. Calder quoted in S. Rodman, Conversations with Artists, New York 1957, p. 140). 

    While a playful aspect is readily evident in Alexander Calder's iconic hanging mobiles, it is not just fun that Calder strived to express in his sculptural work. Beauty, movement and color are the three most basic tenets that he sought to his infuse into each and every of his works. Calder's unique ability to create sculpture of exquisite beauty and harmony are further mystified by their ability to remain perfectly balanced when set in motion by just the smallest amount of wind. The nine elements that compose Maripose are strung together with a series of bended wire mechanisms which allow them to each move independently of each other while still evoking a sense of the whole. As the mobile gently moves in a breeze, the elements will swing to and fro but will never touch each other. Viewed from below, as Calder intended, its almost as if the viewer is staring up in to the night sky watching a constellation or other stellar movement. Calder noted at one point that, "Since the beginning of my work in abstract art, and even though it was not obvious at the time, I felt that there was no better model for me to work from than the Universe.... Spheres of different sizes, densities, colors and volumes, floating in space, surrounded by vivid clouds and tides, currents of air, viscosities and fragrances-in their utmost variety and disparity." (A. Calder, quoted in C. Giménez & A.C.S. Rower (eds.),  Calder: Gravity and Grace, London 2004, p. 52)

    The construction of his mobiles presented a monumental task, requiring the skill of both an artist and an engineer. Unlike many artists of today's generation who often employ studios of assistants that limit the artist's actual hand in the finished work, Calder was a true craftsman who worked with his hands seven days a week until the very end of his career. While it is true that with his large scale stabiles he was assisted by various foundries and other companies out of necessity, with the hanging mobiles especially those of this scale, Calder utilized a completely hands on approach, with just his pliers and brush in hand. For Calder it was paramount to be hands on throughout the whole process in order to achieve the results he was looking for. On the occasion of his 1951 retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, his long time friend and supporter James Johns Sweeney recalled that, "He has always avoided modeling in favor 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 Brancusi, Arp, Moore and Giacometti in their repudiation of virtuosity." (J.J. Sweeney, in Alexander Calder, exh. cat., New York 1951, reproduced in C. Giménez & A.S.C. Rower (eds.), Calder: Gravity and Grace, London 2004, p. 72)

    The simplicity and clarity that he achieved in his work by the direct handling would allow Calder complete control in his creations. The process of achieving perfect harmony was no small feat, but when he did accomplish it, the sculptures were then imbued with a magical element of chance and movement. As Calder noted, "when everything goes right a mobile is a piece of poetry that dances with the joy of life and surprises." (A. Calder, in Calder, London 2004, p. 261). The delicate sense of balance conveyed in Maripose, or any other of his striking mobiles for that matter, is strongly evident of Calder's talent as an engineer, and not simply an artist, or sculptor. 

    Achieving static balance in the mobiles was certainly a priority for Calder, but to have them sustain that delicate balance throughout continuous movement was a whole other feat. As noted earlier, the movement of the mobile is a quintessential element of each work. It is perhaps Jean-Paul Sartre's succinct summation of the brilliance of Calder's mobiles that make this point most clear. "A 'mobile,' one might say, is a little private celebration, an object defined by its movement and having no other existence. It is a flower that fades when it ceases to move, a 'pure play of movement' in the sense that we speak of a pure play of light...They are, that is all; they are absolutes. There is more of the unpredictable about them than in any other human creation. No human brain, not even their creator's, could possibly foresee all the complex combinations of which they are capable. A general destiny of movement is sketched for them, and then they are left to work it out for themselves. What they may do at a given moment will be determined by the time of day, the sun, the temperature or the wind. The object is thus always half way between the servility of a statue and the independence of natural events; each of is evolutions is the inspiration of a moment" (J. Sartre, 'The Mobiles of Calder", inAlexander Calder, New York 1947). The elegant and graceful forms are indeed both magical and inspirational, but it is with his use and application of bold colors, that Calder was able to truly revolutionize abstract sculpture and express his real genius. 

    Speaking about color to Katherine Kuh in an interview in 1962, Calder explained that he wanted "things to be differentiated. Black and white are first - then red is next - and then I get sort of vague. It's really just for differentiation, but I love red so much that I almost want to paint everything red. I often wish that I'd been a fauve in 1905' (A. Calder, quoted in K. Kuh, The Artist's Voice: Talks with Seventeen Artists, New York 1962, reproduced at In Maripose we see the typical black and white elements, and even the red that Calder loved so much, but here he has added blue and yellow to further heighten the visual impact of the piece. Color was, for Calder, not simply a representational concern, but an emotional one. In fact, Calder's choice of bold fluid colors and the juxtaposition of them is reminiscent of the work of the modern master Piet Mondrian. In fact his interest in Abstraction was first piqued when he visited Mondrian's studio in Paris in 1930. He remarked about the visit, "I was particularly impressed by some rectangles of color he had tacked on his wall in a pattern after his nature. I told him I would like to make it oscillate -- he objected" (Calder, quoted in C. Giménez & A.S.C. Rower (eds.), Calder: Gravity and Grace, London 2004, p. 52).

    In a sense, Mondrian's sublime abstractions can be seen as very closely tied to Calder's works. The fine lines of wire connecting each colored element can be compared to the black dividing lines of Mondrian's paintings. The white voids in the paintings equivalent to the negative space surrounding the elements of Calder's sculptures. Both of the artist's works convey fine lyrical qualities, but it is only Calder's mobiles that are able to express such a sublime sense of movement combined with a delicate balance of structure and color. The addition of blue and yellow to the typical red, black and white, imbue Maripose with an even more intense ethereal quality that when confronted from either up close or afar present an almost divine vision of artistic perfection. 

    As critic Michel Ragon so eloquently remarked, "a Calder is a sort of chandelier, which like all chandeliers hangs from the ceiling, but which, in contrast to other chandeliers, is not used as a light fixture, but as a perch on which to rest our dreams." (M. Ragon in Calder, Cologne 1998, p. 20).

    "The 'mobiles,' which are neither wholly alive nor wholly mechanical, and which always eventually return to their original form, may be likened to water grasses in the changing currents, or to the petals of the sensitive plant, or to gossamer caught in an updraft. In short, although 'mobiles' do not seek to imitate anything because they do not 'seek' any end whatever, unless it be to create scales and chords of hitherto unknown movements - they are nevertheless at once lyrical inventions, technical combinations of an almost mathematical quality, and sensitive symbols of Nature, of that profligate Nature which squanders pollen while unloosing a flight of a thousand butterflies; of that inscrutable Nature which refuses to reveal to us whether it is a blind succession of causes and effects, or the timid, hesitant, groping development of an idea" (J. Sartre, "The Mobiles of Calder", in Alexander Calder, New York 1947).

Saleroom notices

  • Please note that the provenance for this work should read: PROVENANCE: Perls Galleries, New York. Irving Galleries, Milwaukee. Private Collection, Milwaukee (acquired from the above in 1976). By descent from the above to the present owner in 1988.
ALEXANDER CALDER (1898-1976) Maripose, 1960
ALEXANDER CALDER (1898-1976) Maripose, 1960
ALEXANDER CALDER (1898-1976) Maripose, 1960
ALEXANDER CALDER (1898-1976) Maripose, 1960
ALEXANDER CALDER (1898-1976) Maripose, 1960
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