ALEXANDER CALDER (1898-1976) Untitled (Push Toy), circa 1958
Lot 3
Untitled (Push Toy), circa 1958
US$ 200,000 - 300,000
£ 150,000 - 230,000


Post-War & Contemporary Art

10 Nov 2015, 16:00 EST

New York

Lot Details
ALEXANDER CALDER (1898-1976) Untitled (Push Toy), circa 1958 ALEXANDER CALDER (1898-1976) Untitled (Push Toy), circa 1958 ALEXANDER CALDER (1898-1976) Untitled (Push Toy), circa 1958 ALEXANDER CALDER (1898-1976) Untitled (Push Toy), circa 1958 ALEXANDER CALDER (1898-1976) Untitled (Push Toy), circa 1958 ALEXANDER CALDER (1898-1976) Untitled (Push Toy), circa 1958 ALEXANDER CALDER (1898-1976) Untitled (Push Toy), circa 1958 ALEXANDER CALDER (1898-1976) Untitled (Push Toy), circa 1958
Untitled (Push Toy), circa 1958
tin cans, sheet metal, rod and wire
31 3/4 x 18 1/2 x 20 1/2in. (82.6 x 47 x 52cm)


  • Provenance
    A gift from the artist to the present owner, circa 1958.

    Hartford, Wadsworth Athenaeum Museum of Art, Calder in Connecticut, 28 April-6 August 2000.
    Waterbury, Mattatuck Museum, The Calder Corner, 6 October 2005-10 April 2009 and again 2013.

    This work is registered in the archives of The Calder Foundation, New York, under application no. A21538.

    "The friendship between the Hirsch's and Calders was marked by periodic gifts...when I was a toddler, he gave me a pull toy made of Ballantine beer cans, and a push toy made of assorted cans. I only was allowed to play with them when he and Louisa were over; otherwise, the toys were stored in the attic." - Calvin Hirsch

    As his son Calvin played outside among the monumental stabiles and sculptures in progress, Clifford Hirsch sat inside the studio with the famous artist Alexander Calder, the two men drinking Ballantine beer straight from the can. The architect and builder who had constructed Calder's third studio in Roxbury, Connecticut, Clifford and the artist shared a mutual respect for one another which grew into a lifelong friendship. Their families were neighbors as the Hirsch's home, 'Spice Hill' was in nearby Woodbury, but the Hirsch's and the Calders' became more than that; treating each other more like extended family rather than friends. The intrigue one must have experienced in Calder's enchanting, elephantine workshop is palpable when looking at historical photography of the Roxbury studio. According to the critic Selden Rodman, Calder's studio was "a machine shop. The floor was deep in steel shavings, wire, nuts and bolts, punched steel metal... the air was busy was with dangling 'contraptions'."1 The Calder's property spanned 1,800 acres and allowed the artist to work on several monumental-scale projects at once.

    Returning from several years spent exclusively in France and England, Louisa and Alexander Calder came back to America in 1933 to start a family, thinking it prudent as there "were so many articles in the European press about war preparations that we thought we had better head for home."2 Searching through the Berkshires and the Hudson Valley for a home with a barn that could be converted into a studio space, they found exactly what they were looking for in Roxbury, Connecticut: a run-down 18th century colonial farmhouse with an adjoining icehouse and a burned out barn in the back. As he was shifting his focus to larger scale works, Calder needed a studio space that could accommodate his practice. Keeping an apartment in New York City for many years, the Calders did eventually settle permanently in Roxbury, where they had a fulfilling and active social life. They were joined in the country in due time by their great friends Yves Tanguy and Kay Sage, as well as Rose and Andrè Masson. In 1947, Arthur Miller bought a home in Roxbury, and while he and Marilyn Monroe spent little time there during their five year marriage, Calder and Miller remained close throughout Calder's life. In Connecticut, Calder met some of his most important patrons, including the Soby Family, and built relationships with several museums, including the Wadsworth Athenaeum in Hartford. As an artist, he found satisfaction within his relationships in Connecticut, but also from the bucolic beauty of his surroundings. This shift is reflected in his work, where "increasing use of forms which are suggestive of nature indicates his sensitiveness to the living organic rhythms and patterns that surrounded him."3

    In 1938, Calder converted the burned out barn into his main studio and the icehouse into a great room for entertaining, but it was destroyed in 1943 in an electrical fire. Haphazardly and thankfully, Louisa and the children were in New York, while Calder was in Chicago preparing for an exhibition of jewelry at the Chicago Arts Club. Calder was so prolific that he eventually required a third studio, which Clifford and the Hirsch Brothers company completed for him in 1958.

    The 1950s in Connecticut were marked by ingenuity-filled constructions, undoubtedly rendered during a period of boldness and contentment during which Calder felt focused and supported in taking risks. Constantly creating, Calder made cabinetry for the Roxbury house, and household objects such as andirons and kitchen caddies. Building upon his groundbreaking Cirque Calder (1926-1931), Calder continued to make objects which required activation and engagement in order to function. However, the way in which this activation took form is always dependent upon the participant. The way a stabile floats and moves is never the same twice, and is based on the way the wind blows or a viewer touches the delicate hanging discs. Whether the participant is a child or an adult, this personalized result begets a wondrously curious pleasure. The toys the artist made for Calvin Hirsch when he was a toddler were no exception: they too required participation. However, he was only allowed to play with these precious curios when Calder came over to the house. Otherwise, they were kept in the attic for safekeeping. These, among gouaches, jewelry, and other objects were cherished dearly by the Hirsch family. While their preservation was important to the family, they took pleasure in their utilization, just as Calder himself intended. Mrs. Hirsch lovingly wore the bracelet Calder had made for her, even while working in her garden.

    The healthy relationship between artist and architect was invaluable in the construction of the public, monumental sculpture which would ultimately define Calder's legacy. As Marc Glimcher explains, there has been a "long history of monumental statuary in which the artist functions as a 'master builder', directing the efforts of the craftsmen and artisans who are realizing his vision. At the same time he is subject to the restrictions of the individuals controlling the funding and location that are necessary for the successful completion of such a project. With the exception of the making of the original model, the process of creation is far from solitary."4 Calder perfected this subtle balance of the collaborative rapport between artist and architect with Calvin Hirsch. Their practical consanguinity in part gave Calder the ability to succeed in the latter part of his career as he was thoroughly practiced in the acumen which allowed his relationships with other architects to thrive.

    One might consider the relationship that Calder and his family formed with the Hirsch's akin to his sculptural process. After all, he was "never as concerned with some particular type of form as he was with families of forms, with the relationships between forms. While most of the great abstract artists crystalize a moment in the relations of forms, with Calder such relations remain fluid, provisional, never entirely known."5 In other words, he was not only interested in the work of Mr. Hirsch, whom he deeply respected, but also in his relationship to both Roxbury and to domestic space. Building friendships with families with shared values was very important to Calder both personally and professionally. The critic Jed Perl beautifully distills this sentiment, speaking to what are perhaps Calder's most revered pieces, the stabiles, and the iconographical motifs they utilize which relate to family. Perl explains that "a mobile is a genealogy of forms, a family tree, a gathering of a particular tribe. Sometimes a mobile contains two families, sometimes three. There are mobiles that gather many similar elements. And there are mobiles in which a single element (the face of a crown, an exotic flower) stands out from all the rest. Sometimes Calder's mobiles suggest utopian families, sometimes dysfunctional ones. Sometimes Calder's families are vegetal, sometimes mineral, sometimes astral. Whatever the temperament in a particular mobile, and it can range from disquietude to ebullience, there is always the possibility that the temperature will rise or fall, the relationships and the situations change yet again. Always, with Calder, there is this deep, abiding optimism, this sense that when matter and energy meet, miracles can happen."6

    1. Calder and Abstraction: From Avant-Garde to Iconic, exh. cat, Los Angeles, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 2014, p. 49.
    2. Primary source from Calder Foundation Archives, Calder to Cooper, 2 July 1966, pp. 143–44.
    3. E. Stone Coan, "The Mobiles of Alexander Calder," in Vassar Journal of Undergraduate Studies, 12 May 1942, p. 7.
    4. Calder: From Model to Monument, exh. cat, New York, Pace Wildenstein, 2006, p. 6.
    5. Calder and Abstraction: From Avant-Garde to Iconic, exh. cat, Los Angeles, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 2014, p. 51.
    6. Ibid, p. 53.

Saleroom notices

  • Please note the correct application number for this work:
    This work is registered in the archives of The Calder Foundation, New York, under application no. A04410.
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