This work is registered in the archives of the Calder Foundation New York under application number A02537.
Flitting from Surrealist circles to the arms of abstraction, from pragmatic prowess to artistic achievement, from his native America to his adopted Paris, Alexander Calder (1898-1976) brought an unprecedented ingenuity into art. Among the forerunners of the international avant-garde, Calder reminded the mechanical age of what it had sacrificed in the name of progress – and what it could regain in the acceptance of an art that Fernand Léger once described as ‘serious without seeming to be.’ Crag with Red Heart (1974), executed just two years before Calder’s fatal heart attack, represents the epitome of an artist wearing his generous heart on his sleeve, dangling it off the ledge for the world to see, in its lovely union of spontaneous movement and grounded reality.
This particular Crag balances a trio of eggshell discs against a lone scarlet heart in a poignant rendition of Calder’s seminal crag works. Reminiscent of impossible cliffs or fluid skylines, the Crag series transforms quotidian sheet metal and wire into other-worldly organisms, replete with fluttering shapes in primary colors. The artist’s developed understanding of kinetic sculpture further animates these stabiles as the fruitful results of a well-established career. Crag with Red Heart, however, stakes a concrete claim by invoking the universal symbol of love in place of abstract forms. While the heart exists as the physical source of life, it also asserts itself as the emotional well out of which fervor and feeling flood. Hanging in delicate equilibrium with the three saucers, Calder’s heart reveals the tension pursuant to any passion – the beloved weighed against the obliged, the dream in conflict with reality. Although Calder surrenders interpretation to the viewer in real time, this Crag suggests the inescapable struggle each human undergoes when deciding a life course. Like the crag itself, such a course is seldom linear and rarely complete. Thus, this intimate stabile is as much about what is missing as what is present. The figure-ground concerns introduced by the black foundation and echoed by the wire balancing mechanism allude to the spaces carved in one’s heart by love lost and found. In so doing, the work renders itself whole yet again – a microcosm of choices, triumphs, and failures on courageous, vulnerable display.
With a painter for a mother and the inheritor of a sculptural family legacy through his father, Calder had no choice but to mature around artists and their production. Intrigued by the inner workings of materials from childhood, Calder spent four years on an engineering degree before toiling away in boiler rooms and automobile factories. In 1923, he followed his creative inclinations to New York, where he took night classes at the Art Students League, a position as an illustrator, and the existing art community by graceful storm. Shortly thereafter, Calder felt called to Paris, where his burgeoning interests coincided with those of Surrealism and abstraction, and where he was introduced to an assortment of avant-gardes, among them Marcel Duchamp: “…I could more or less be said to belong to quite a gang: [Jules] Pascin, [Tsuguharu] Foujita, Man Ray, Kiki [de Montparnasse], [Robert] Desnos, and many others. I felt very much at home with them…” (A. Calder, quoted in M. Rosenthal, The Surreal Calder, exh. cat., Menil Collection, Houston, 2005, p. 116). Ever true to his singular vision, Calder fashioned a uniquely American style with the power to transcend, quite literally, the limiting categorization of any one twentieth-century movement. “Calder is a man of tremendous integrity,” recalled Robert Osborn. “Right from the start he has understood – with intensity – who HE is, what he feels, and what he can imagine. He has never once diluted any of these things” (R. Osborn, quoted in A. Calder, Calder: An Autobiography with Pictures, New York, 1966, p. 1).
The present work bears witness to such a statement, and its inclusion in the Perls Galleries show Calder: Crags and Critters of 1974 cements its place in Calder’s lasting oeuvre. The subtle movement of Calder’s hand-picked elements “…conveys to us with equal felicity the evolutions of the celestial bodies, the trembling of leaves on the branches, the memory of caresses” (A. Breton, quoted in M. Rosenthal, The Surreal Calder, exh. cat., Menil Collection, Houston, 2005, p. 138). Blessed with those very memories as a family man and well-loved creator, Calder sought in his final years to share such sensations. Just as the artist spent his life navigating his unrelenting desire for rationality and opposing tender creative urge, Crag with Red Heart juxtaposes logic and feeling in a synthesis of well-conceived, accessible design. Perhaps a statement on the coexistence of disparate impulses, perhaps simply an aesthetically pleasing swan song, the present work is Calder at his most gentle and most human.