This work is registered in the archives of the Calder Foundation, New York, under application number A25961.
"If one thought of iron as impersonal, without much warmth in its nature, with neither heart nor sex, see what Calder does with it"--Nancy Cunard. Six White Dots Over Blue, Black and Red is an early example of Alexander Calder's standing mobiles--a distinct body of work that began in the mid-1940s and combined two of his most celebrated and sought after forms; his graceful mobiles and more substantial stabiles. Shortly after a visit to Piet Mondrian's Paris studio in 1930, Calder declared, "Why must sculpture be static? You look at abstraction, sculptured or painted, an entirely exciting arrangement of planes, nuclei, entirely without meaning. It would be perfect but it is always still. The next step is sculpture in motion." (A. Calder in M. Prather, Alexander Calder 1898-1976, Washington 1998, p. 57). This statement by the artist on the nature of abstraction became one of the most famous of his generation and with its enticing mixture of hard and soft lines, bold use of color and unparalleled kinetic qualities, Six White Dots Over Blue, Black and Red becomes the enticing embodiment of Calder's influential artistic practice.
This is one of Calder's most advanced sculptural forms and its harmonious composition is one of the artist's most elegant. Three red limbs arch upwards, their dramatic curves reaching toward the sky piercing through a large black metal disk as it goes. These metal supports are drawn up to a single point upon which is perched a horizontal element which not only supports the metal hoop that hangs down like a seductive skirt but also holds up a dramatic vertical axis upon which is perched a constellation of white metal disks that seemingly float in mid-air. Composing these delicate configurations was a process that took time and consideration, and using his skills as an engineer (Calder graduated with a degree in mechanical engineering), the artist manages to combine a number of complex visual and mechanical arrangements into an object that radiates with aesthetic and technical virtuosity. "I begin at the small ends," he said "then balance in progression until I think I've found the point of support. This is crucial, as there is only one such point and it must be right if the object is to hang or pivot freely. I usually test out this point with strings to make sure before bending the wires" (A. Calder, quoted in M. Prather (ed.), Alexander Calder: 1989-1976, exh. cat., National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1998, p. 232).
In the 1940s, the 'pierced disk' motif that Calder used in this work was a relatively new form for the artist and one that he developed to heighten a work's sense of transparency in addition to increasing the amount of movement. "When I cut holes in my plates," he said, "I have two things in mind. I want them to be more alive, and I think about balance. Then there is the idea of an object floating," he added, "not supported...[but] the use of a very long thread as a long arm in a cantilever as the best means of support seems to best approximate this freedom from earth" (A. Calder, op. cit., pp. 230-231). First introduced to critical acclaim in his 1941 show at the Pierre Matisse Gallery, this form proved to be immensely popular with both critics and collectors alike, as one reviewer raved, "What niceties of balance and mechanical judgment all this indicates leave the layman lost in wonder. For these mobiles have no motive power of their own. Yet a mere passing of a person through the room sets them in motion and weaves his slow or brusque movement into visible harmonies as haunting and suggestive as the strains of distant music" (R. Frost, "Alexander Calder," ARTnews 40, June 1941, p. 30).
Clearly inspired by his first visit to Mondrian's studio, Calder recalled, "a white wall, rather high with rectangles of cardboard painted yellow, red, blue, black and a variety of whites, tacked upon it so as to form a fine, big composition" (A. Calder, quoted in M. Prather (ed.), op. cit., p. 47). Fascinated by the Dutchman's colorful geometric paintings, Calder felt one thing was missing--movement. He would later recall, "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" (A. Calder, quoted in C. Giménez & A.S.C. Rower (ed.), Calder: Gravity and Grace, London, 2004, p. 52). Calder however refused to be disheartened by Mondrian's rather abrupt response and continued to investigate the formal role that color plays within perception. Indeed, for him, color was not really about representation, it was about distinction, saying "I want things to be differentiated. Black and white are first--then red is next" (A. Calder, interview by K. Kuh, "Alexander Calder," in The Artist's Voice: Talks with Seventeen Artists, New York, 1962).
Alexander Calder has been called the only artist in the history to have invented and then practiced an art form of his own. His beautifully constructed mobiles, stabiles and examples of monumental sculpture resonate in many dimensions as their form, color and movement provides a unique dialogue on the nature of abstraction. With its strong visual aesthetic and graceful sense of movement, Six White Dots Over Blue, Black and Red becomes the embodiment of Calder's artistic practice.
Six White Dots Over Blue, Black, and Red
Standing mobile--painted sheet metal and wire
Collection of Celeste and Armand Bartos
Alexander Calder , 20th Century, Sculptures, Statues & Figures, United States of America, Post War
POST-WAR & CONTEMPORARY ART
42 x 24 x 22 in. (106.6 x 60.9 x 55.8 cm.)
Acquired from the artist
Buchholz Gallery/Curt Vallentin, New York, 1948
Acquired from the above by the present owner, 1948