Calder expanded the boundaries of sculpture with an unequivocal sense of playfulness and audacity. With his invention of the hanging and standing mobiles, Calder was the first sculptor to translate the modernist canon of abstract composition into three- dimensional space and then set it in motion. His unwavering passion to bend the obdurate rules and static conventions governing sculpture liberated it from a hitherto fixed and lifeless format. Untitled from 1935, an early, rare and seminal carved wood sculpture, epitomizes the inventive genius of Calder and stands at the threshold of the artist's complete liberation from the static stone, brass and wood sculptural forms of the past.
An apocryphal visit to Piet Mondrian's studio in Paris in 1930 inspired Calder to translate the strict formalism of the Dutch artist's geometric abstractions into objects that oscillate through space. Noting that even details of Mondrian's studio environment reflected his principles of two-dimensional Neo-Plastic painting, Calder intuitively imagined the possibility of abstract sculpture that would bring form, color and design out into the spatial reality inhabited by the viewer. Calder had lived in Paris from 1926 and moved freely in the avant-garde art circle of the time. In 1931, he was invited to join Abstraction-Création, a group of artists including Jean Arp, Piet Mondrian, and Robert Delaunay. He performed his famous wire Circus for friends and fellow artists and Picasso attended the opening of Calder's exhibition at Galerie Percier in April 1931. Calder began to experiment with motorized sculptures and it was Marcel Duchamp who suggested the term ``mobile'' for Calder's creations during a studio visit in the Fall of 1931. Arp coined the term ``stabile'' for Calder's non-mechanized sculptures in 1932 and Calder wrote a succinct description of his endeavors for ``Comment réaliser l'art?'' in the first publication of Abstraction-Création, ``Each element can move, shift or sway back and forth in changing relation to each of the other elements in this universe. Thus they reveal not only isolated moments, but a physical law of variation among the events of life. Not extractions but abstractions.'' (Exh. Cat., Washington, D. C., National Gallery of Art, Alexander Calder, 1898-1976, 1998, p., 71).
Returning to the United States in 1933 and experimenting with mechanized sculptures within wall frames, Calder next carved a small group of wood sculptures in 1935-36 at the height of his most innovative and creative decade. Redolent of influences such as the biomorphic and surrealist sculptures of Arp and Miró, these works are graceful examples of Calder's arresting blend of visual poetry. Untitled from 1935 is one of the few works in this group to incorporate movable parts: in this case, the round disc is pierced by the wire vertical upon which it can rotate. Titled Wood Mobile when it was included in the retrospective that celebrated the artist's centennial, the refined elemental beauty and inherent mobility of Untitled is the essence of both the ``mobile'' and `stabile'' categories in Calder's pursuit for revolutionary art forms that combine an innate sense of balance, design and harmonic composition. Other examples of the 1935-1936 wood sculptures are T and Swallow (Tate Gallery, London) in which a wood element is suspended by string, Diana (Museum of Fine Arts, Boston), Untitled (IVAM, Instituto Valenciano de Arte Moderno) and Gibraltar (The Museum of Modern Art, New York). The present work was included in the 1936 exhibition of the artist's work at the Pierre Matisse Gallery in New York.
Untitled conveys a strong Surrealist influence and bears traces of the constellation and universe motifs so prevalent in Calder's work of the 1930s and 1940s. Balanced on the graceful horizontal element, the single disc seems posed to revolve in an orbital arc, while the gently torqued vertical suggests a lone tree on the landscape horizon upon which the orb can revolve. A close friend of Miró, Calder's early sculptures are often compared to that artist's famous series of works titled Constellations, yet Miró's works were painted in the early 1940s and would not be exhibited until 1945. On the other hand, the three-dimensionality in Calder's works of the 1930s, such as the present work, is more closely affiliated with the sculptural wood reliefs of biomorphic forms created by Arp since the 1920s and most certainly known to Calder. Both artists' works are volumetric compositions that imply systems of complex movements, displacing the void with biomorphic, natural forms. In fact, Fernand Léger had compared the two artists in the introduction he wrote for Calder's 1931 show at Galerie Percier which first exhibited his abstract work: ``When I look at these new, transparent, objective, exact works, I think of Satie, Mondrian, Duchamp, Brancusi, Arp, those undisputed masters of inexpressible and silent beauty.'' (Ibid. p. 70)
Wood and wire
New York, Pierre Matisse Gallery, Mobiles and Objects by Alexander Calder, February 1936
Saint-Paul de Vence, Fondation Maeght; Humlebaek, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art; Amsterdam, Stedelijk Museum, Calder, April - November 1969, cat. no. 42, p. 124, illustrated (Saint-Paul de Vence), cat. no. 40, (Humlebaek) and cat. no. 25 (Amsterdam)
Chicago, Museum of Contemporary Art, Alexander Calder: a Retrospective Exhibition: Work from 1925-1974, October - December 1974, p. 9, illustrated
New York, Whitney Museum of American Art, Alexander Calder: Sculpture of the Nineteen Thirties, November 1987 - January 1988, p. 41, illustrated
Washington, DC., National Gallery of Art; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Alexander Calder: 1898 - 1976, March - December 1998, cat. no. 79, p. 116, illustrated in color
39 7/8 x 21 x 9 3/4 in. 101.3 x 53.3 x 24.7 cm.
Harvard H. Arnason, Calder, New York, 1971, pl. 20, illustrated
Fondation Maeght, ed., Calder, l'Artiste et l'Oeuvre: Archives no. 1, Paris, 1971, p. 51, illustrated
San Lazzaro, ed., XXe siècle: Hommage à Alexander Calder, Paris, 1972, p. 103, illustrated (1969 Fondation Maeght exhibition)
Exh. Cat., New York, Whitney Museum of American Art (and traveling), Calder's Universe, 1977, p. 226, illustrated
Exh. Cat., Houston, The Menil Collection, The Surreal Calder, 2005, fig. 50, p. 130, illustrated (exhibition installation drawing of work)
Galerie Claude Bernard, Paris
Henry Hecht, New York
Harriet Griffin Fine Art, New York
Acquired by the present owner from the above in 1973