Foundation scoops up second sculpture from Berkshire Museum
PITTSFIELD — It was the summer of 1933. A reviewer for The Berkshire Eagle peered into the future of sculpture.
And there stood Alexander Calder, a former engineering student who followed his father into the art business.
"Modernity Rules," a headline declared.
Today, two Calder pieces formerly on view at the Berkshire Museum are back in the family fold.
The Calder Foundation announced this week it purchased "Dancing Torpedo Shape" from the museum in a private transaction, three months after buying "Double Arc and Sphere" at auction.
Ahead of the May auction, Sotheby's termed Calder's "Double Arc and Sphere" an important example of pieces the artist created in a "transformative" time that saw him experimenting with "the modernist canon within three-dimensional space."
The sales price of "Dancing Torpedo Shape" was not disclosed. The other sculpture sold for $1 million May 16 at Sotheby's as part of the museum's court-approved effort to raise $55 million.
"We are pleased to announce the addition of `Dancing Torpedo Shape' to our collection," the foundation said in a statement posted to its Facebook page.
The sale narrows by one the list of Berkshire Museum works being marketed in a second round. In the first round, which included private sales and auctions, the museum netted $47 million after expenses, including some legal costs, the institution has said.
The second round of nine works, announced June 25, includes pieces by Albert Bierstadt, Thomas Wilmer Dewing, George Henry Durrie and Thomas Moran.
The museum declined Thursday to say whether other transactions have taken place.
The citizens' group Save the Art-Save the Museum held a July 14 rally calling for sales to stop. "With $47 million now in the bank, the board cannot claim that it needs to further strip away the collection `to keep its doors open,'" the group said in a statement.
The foundation was created in 1987 by Alexander S.C. Rower, grandson of the sculptor, and other members of the Calder family.
The purchase safeguards the future of the futuristic 1932 work, which used a motor to put its pieces in motion. It was an early example of pieces that came to be called kinetic art and "mobiles."
"The esthetic value of these objects cannot be arrived at by reasoning," Calder said of his own works in an exhibition statement. "Familiarization is necessary. ... Just as one can compose colors, or forms, so one can compose motions."
In a July 2015 post on its website, the museum continued to hail Calder's importance. "The world knows Alexander Calder as one of the greatest artists of the 20th century," the post reads.
The museum had reason to be proud of Calder's accomplishments. It had provided what is believed to have been the artist's first commission, paying Calder in 1937 to create two mobiles that remain on view in the museum's theater. The pieces are located on both sides of the space and remain part of the collection.
The museum's Calder connection went deeper. The artist's father, Alexander Stirling Calder, had been hired to create woodwork and a "fountain surround" for the Ellen Crane Memorial Room.
The two Calder sculptures the museum has sold were created in Paris, before the artist's move back to the U.S. in 1933.
A term that described them was new enough for the artist to put it in quotes in his exhibition statement.
"The two motor driven `mobiles' which I am exhibiting are from among the more successful attempts at plastic objects in motion," he wrote. "The orbits are all circular arcs or circles. The supports have been painted to disappear against a white background to leave nothing but the moving elements, their forms and colors, and their orbits, speeds and accelerations."
The nonprofit Calder Foundation works to preserve works by the artist, who died in 1976, and to foster efforts to show and interpret his creations. It houses the artist's archives and has expanded its work to include lectures, performances and other events and the granting of a biannual Calder Prize.
The French philosopher and writer Jean-Paul Sartre was among Calder's admirers.
In a 1947 essay, Sartre said a Calder mobile "does not suggest movement but subtly conquers it ... ."
"It does not dream [of] enslaving movement for all time in bronze or gold, those glorious, stupid materials, dedicated by nature to immobility. With a mixture of commonplace materials, with little bones, tin, or zinc, Calder builds strange constructions of stems, palms, quoits, feathers, and petals," Sartre wrote. "They are both sounding boards and traps. Some, like a spider, dangle from threads; others huddle dully on their bases, settled, seemingly asleep. A little breeze comes by, tangles in them, awakens them. They channel it and give it a transitory shape: a mobile is born."
"Calder's objects are like the sea and they cast its same spell — always beginning again, always new," he wrote.
Larry Parnass can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, at @larryparnass on Twitter and 413-496-6214.
TALK TO US
If you'd like to leave a comment (or a tip or a question) about this story with the editors, please email us. We also welcome letters to the editor for publication; you can do that by filling out our letters form and submitting it to the newsroom.