Calder-Picasso

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Introduction

Alexander Calder and Pablo Picasso were two of the most innovative, influential artists of the twentieth century.

With his mobiles, Calder (American, 1898–1976) animated sculpture, embraced chance as a crucial artistic element, and engaged the viewer in a dynamic dialogue with the ever-evolving artwork. Exploring the concept of metamorphosis while alternating between representation and abstraction, Picasso (Spanish, 1881–1973) revealed and explored the infinite potential inherent in both styles, often in the same work of art.

The artists’ grandsons Alexander S. C. Rower and Bernard Ruiz-Picasso conceived this exhibition as a compelling conversation between the practices of two artists who were engaged in a lifelong discourse about modernity. Central to the many resonances between the artists’ works are their conceptual and visual explorations of the void, as well as line and volume.

Calder sought to capture the unseen and unknown forces that lie beneath and beyond the three visible physical dimensions, in order to create a sense of grandeur immense, or “immense grandeur.” Picasso, who described his works as “pages from my diary,” fused the personal with the universal and was determined to achieve “a deeper likeness, more real than real, thus becoming sur-real.”

Remarkably varied artworks by Calder and Picasso are juxtaposed in thematic groupings throughout the exhibition, revealing the intriguing parallels between these great innovators and the unique visions that make each distinctive. They reaffirm the revolutionary contributions of two artists who transformed our conceptions of form and space—and thus the very definition of art itself.

The exhibition is curated by Ann Dumas, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, and Timothy Anglin Burgard, Distinguished Senior Curator and Ednah Root Curator in Charge of American Art at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, based on original curatorial work by Claire Garnier, Emilia Philippot, Alexander S. C. Rower, and Bernard Ruiz-Picasso, who jointly curated the exhibition presented at the Musée national Picasso-Paris and the Museo Picasso Málaga.

Man Ray (Emmanuel Radnitzky, American, 1890–1976)

Portrait of Calder, ca. 1931

Vintage gelatin silver print

Calder Foundation, New York

Man Ray (Emmanuel Radnitzky, American, 1890–1976)

Portrait of Picasso, 1931–1933

Vintage gelatin silver print

Musée national Picasso-Paris

MPPH 1488

Alexander Calder (1898–1976)

Hercules and Lion, 1928

Wire

Calder Foundation, New York
Promised gift of Alexander S. C. Rower

The subject and scale of Hercules and Lion are more commonly associated with classical art. Both Alexander Calder’s father and grandfather were traditional sculptors who bent rods and wire into armatures to support their clay models. Hercules and Lion engages these traditions while ironically updating them with massless yet muscle-bound figures suspended from the ceiling. The shadows they project onto the wall create a multidimensional experience.

Alexander Calder (1898–1976)

Mobile, ca. 1937

Wood, sheet metal, rod, string, wire, and paint

Finnish National Gallery, Ateneum Art Museum, Helsinki
A-1992-47

In 1931, Alexander Calder invented an entirely new type of art—purely abstract sculptures that could be set in motion. Artist Marcel Duchamp named them “mobiles.” While Calder initially experimented with motorized mobiles, he soon allowed his suspended sculptures to drift solely in response to air currents or human intervention. In this mobile, which presents variations on the sphere, a circle of wire describes a volume and void with no beginning or end. 

Pablo Picasso (1881–1973)

Figure (projet pour un monument à Guillaume Apollinaire), fall 1928

Wire and sheet metal

Musée national Picasso-Paris
Pablo Picasso Acceptance in Lieu, 1979
MP266

This is Pablo Picasso’s study for a sculpture commissioned to honor the writer Guillaume Apollinaire. Rejecting traditional materials, Picasso devised an abstract construction of metal rods that corresponds to the simple black lines of his drawings. Drawing inspiration from Apollinaire’s text The Assassinated Poet (1916), he sought to make “a statue out of nothing, out of emptiness.” The commissioning committee rejected Picasso’s innovative concept as too radical.

Pablo Picasso (1881–1973)

Monument à Apollinaire (Monument to Apollinaire), Sketchbook 36, page 8r, ca. 1928

Ink on paper

Musée national Picasso-Paris
MP1990-107

Alexander Calder (1898–1976)

Medusa, ca. 1930

Wire

Calder Foundation, New York
Promised gift of Alexander S.C. Rower

Pablo Picasso (1881–1973)

Femmes devant la mer (Women Before the Sea), 1920

Pencil on paper

 Calder Foundation, New York

Alexander Calder (1898–1976)

Dancer, 1927

Wire and wood

Calder Foundation, New York

Alexander Calder (1898–1976)

Ball Player, ca. 1927

Wire and wood

Calder Foundation, New York

When Alexander Calder moved to Paris in 1926, he dedicated himself to sculpting in wire—creating a new form of massless sculpture in which expressive lines carved in space articulate figures in motion. In Ball Player, Calder captures the silhouette of the figure as he reaches out into space in a moment of focused action. Calder designed these wire figures so that they radiate kinetic energy through the slight trembling of the wire lines.

Pablo Picasso (1881–1973)

Acrobate (Acrobat), January 19, 1930

Oil on plywood

Fundación Almine y Bernard Ruiz-Picasso para el Arte, Madrid

Pablo Picasso here employs a single, unbroken line to render this astonishingly flexible acrobat, creating a silhouette akin to Alexander Calder’s wire drawings in space. The acrobat’s contortions activate all four sides of the painting and challenge traditional conceptions of a vertical or horizontal orientation. As in Calder’s work, the seemingly empty surrounding space is also activated to serve as an essential component of the composition.

Alexander Calder (1898–1976)

Acrobats, 1929

Wire and rod

Calder Foundation, New York
Gift of Shawn Davidson, 2014

Alexander Calder (1898–1976)

Fish, 1929

Brass wire

Calder Foundation, New York 

Drawing in Space

“The shadows of the small linear constructions trace a sort of drawing on the white wall in the way of Picasso.”

—Pierre Berthelot, writer

“Whether his wire bends itself poorly into a curve, whether it clings inappropriately and will be the end of all sculpture: we will have before our eyes the metal portrayal of a drawing in space, we won’t have a well-evoked mass.”

—Edouard Ramond, writer

In 1926, at age twenty-seven, Alexander Calder left New York for Paris and soon began creating his miniature circus, Cirque Calder, a multipart artwork made from found materials. Calder’s performances of his circus enchanted the Parisian avant-garde and established his reputation. The Cirque Calder developed alongside his innovative method of bending and twisting wire to create “drawings in space.”

Wire was a natural medium for Calder, who was known in Paris as “The King of Wire.” In these dynamic creations, calligraphic lines define suspended and platform-based figures, while the shadows they project enhance their expressive effect.

Pablo Picasso had depicted circus subjects since his early Rose Period (1904–1906). During the 1930s, Picasso painted abstracted, boldly silhouetted acrobats and experimented with  the medium of bent wire to create small figurative sculptures.

Alexander Calder (1898–1976)

Circus Scene, 1929

Wire, wood, and paint

Calder Foundation, New York

Alexander Calder (1898–1976)

Acrobats, ca. 1927

Wire and wood

Calder Foundation, New York
Gift of Katherine Merle-Smith Thomas in memory of Van Santvoord Merle-Smith, Jr., 2010

Pablo Picasso (1881–1973)

Figure, 1927

Oil on plywood

Musée national Picasso-Paris
Pablo Picasso Acceptance in Lieu, 1979 MP101

Alexander Calder (1898–1976)

Acrobat, 1929

Wire and wood

Calder Foundation, New York
Promised gift of Holton Rower

Alexander Calder (1898–1976)

Three Ring Circus, 1930

Watercolor and ink on paper

Collection of Mr. and Mrs. John and Kathy Orton

Alexander Calder was captivated by the circus when, as a student in New York City, he was commissioned to draw the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus. “I made some drawings of nothing but the tent,” he said. “The whole thing of the—the vast space—I’ve always loved it.”

Alexander Calder (1898–1976)

Woman on a Man’s Shoulder, 1932

Ink on paper

Collection of Mr. and Mrs. John and Kathy Orton

Alexander Calder (1898–1976)

Caryatid, 1928

Wood

Calder Foundation, New York

Alexander Calder (1898–1976)

Caryatid, 1928

Wood

Calder Foundation, New York

Alexander Calder (1898–1976)

Aztec Josephine Baker, 1930

Wire

Wire Calder Foundation, New York
Promised gift of Holton Rower

The Black dancer and cabaret performer Josephine Baker took Jazz Age Paris by storm in the late 1920s with her revolutionary and risqué dancing at the Folies-Bergère. This sculpture, the last of Alexander Calder’s five wire renderings of Baker, conveys the essence of her dazzling physical presence and public persona. By articulating her body so that it sways with air currents, Calder captures her dynamism, instead of merely recording a physical likeness.

Pablo Picasso (1881–1973)

Tête (Head), October 1928

Painted brass and iron

Musée national Picasso-Paris
Pablo Picasso Acceptance in Lieu, 1979
MP263

Pablo Picasso (1881–1973)

Figure, 1931

Iron and wire

Musée national Picasso-Paris
Pablo Picasso Acceptance in Lieu, 1979
MP271

Pablo Picasso also experimented with wire, and in this small sculpture he seems to fuse a human figure with a geometric object that recalls an artist’s easel. Picasso scholar Christian Zervos recalled: “Picasso picks up a wire lying on the floor and proceeds to twist it while chatting. Without doing anything specific, after a few minutes, the wire sustained the imprint of a great sensitivity.”

Pablo Picasso (1881–1973)

Figure: Femme en fil de fer (Figure: Woman in Wire), 1931

Wire

Musée national Picasso-Paris, Purchase, 1999
MP1999-18

Alexander Calder (1881–1973)

Invitation to the Cirque Calder with a handwritten note from Alexander Calder to Pablo Picasso, and its envelope, November 10, 1932

Musée national Picasso-Paris
Gift of Picasso estate, 1992
515AP/C/20/20/1 (1–2)

Capturing the Void

Inspired by a 1930 visit to the Paris studio of the abstract painter Piet Mondrian, in 1931 Alexander Calder began to create purely abstract sculpture. The catalyst was Mondrian’s environmental installation, which included a white studio wall with cardboard rectangles painted in bold colors, as well as black, gray, and white. 

“This one visit gave me a shock that started things,” the artist recalled. “Though I had heard the word ‘modern’ before, I did not consciously know or feel the term ‘abstract.’ So now, at thirty-two, I wanted to paint and work in the abstract.” 

In 1931, Calder’s abstract sculptures were shown at Galerie Percier in Paris. The sculptor Jean Arp invented the term “stabiles” for these stationary works. Calder wrote that his new sculptures represented “everything” and “nothing.” Pablo Picasso, who visited before the public opening, was introduced to Calder for the first time. 

In 1932, Calder’s kinetic abstract sculptures were first shown at Galerie Vignon in Paris. The exhibition, organized by artist Marcel Duchamp, who named the moving sculptures “mobiles” in 1931, also was visited by Picasso. Calder characterized these works as “not extractions, but abstractions. Abstractions that are like nothing in life except in their manner of reacting.” 

Alexander Calder (1898–1976)

Untitled, 1932

Ink on paper

Calder Foundation, New York

Alexander Calder was a prolific artist who explored in a variety of media the many dimensions beyond the three in which we live. He noted, “The universe is real but you can’t see it. You have to imagine it.”

Catalogue for the exhibition Alexandre Calder: Volumes–Vecteurs–Densités / Dessins–Portraits, Galerie Percier, Paris, 1931 

Calder Foundation, New York 

Marc Vaux (French, 1895–1971)

Exterior view of the exhibition Alexandre Calder: Volumes–Vecteurs–Densités / Dessins–Portraits, Galerie Percier, Paris, 1931

Vintage gelatin silver print

Calder Foundation, New York 

Marc Vaux (French, 1895–1971)

Interior view of the exhibition Alexandre Calder: Volumes–Vecteurs–Densités / Dessins–Portraits, Galerie Percier, Paris, 1931

Vintage gelatin silver print

Calder Foundation, New York 

Pablo Picasso (1881–1973)

Femme nue couché au soleil sur la plage (Female Nude Reclining in the Sun on the Beach), 1932

Oil on canvas

Fundación Almine y Bernard Ruiz-Picasso para el Arte, Madrid

Pablo Picasso’s female nude appears to be simultaneously composed of rounded wavelike masses and sharp transparent triangles. The juxtaposition of geometric shapes and a circular disk bear a striking, though coincidental, relationship to the composition of Calder’s two untitled drawings from the same year.

Alexander Calder (1898–1976)

Untitled, 1932

Ink on paper

Calder Foundation, New York

Although this drawing is inherently two-dimensional and static, it radically reconceives our conceptions and representations of space, gravity, and movement. It demonstrates a theatrical dynamism and serves as a proposal for an animated dialogue of vectors, voids, and volumes set against an undefined backdrop.

Pablo Picasso (1881–1973)

Tête de femme (Head of a Woman), 1927–1928

Oil and sand on canvas

Musée national Picasso-Paris
Pablo Picasso Acceptance in Lieu, 1979
MP100

Alexander Calder (1898–1976)

Croisière, 1931

Wire, wood, and paint

Calder Foundation, New York

Croisière describes disparate, yet complementary, forces: solidity and transparency, volume and void, activity and inactivity. Reflecting later, Alexander Calder observed, “At that time and practically ever since, the underlying form in my work has been the system of the Universe, or part thereof . . . What I mean is that the idea of detached bodies floating in space, of different sizes and densities, perhaps of different colors and temperatures, and surrounded and interlarded with wisps of gaseous condition, and some at rest, while others move in peculiar manners, seems to me the ideal source of form.”

Pablo Picasso (1881–1973)

Nu couché (Reclining Nude), 1932

Oil on canvas

Musée national Picasso-Paris Pablo
Picasso Acceptance in Lieu, 1979
MP142

The subject of this sensual nude is Marie-Thérèse Walter, the young woman who inspired an outpouring of erotic works in all media by Pablo Picasso. For the artist, Walter embodied the fertile forces of nature, represented here by earthbound fruit and leaves, as well as by the celestial sun and moon. Her upraised left arm, which frames a half-moon profile against a black void, finds a resonant echo in the wire lines encircling the voids in Alexander Calder’s abstract sculptures.

Alexander Calder (1898–1976)

Object with Red Discs, 1931

Sheet aluminum, wood, wire, steel rod, and paint

Whitney Museum of American Art, New York
Purchase, with funds from the Mrs. Percy Uris Purchase Fund
86.49a–c

Object with Red Discs, one of Alexander Calder’s earliest moving sculptures, perfectly counterbalances gravity with weightlessness. Its seemingly spontaneous effect of metal discs and wooden balls floating in response to air currents is achieved through careful calculations of weight and balance. Calder’s process in creating these works was intuitive and direct: “Simplicity of equipment and an adventurous spirit in attacking the unfamiliar or unknown are apt to result in a primitive and vigorous art.”

Alexander Calder (1898–1976)

Sphérique I, 1931

Wire, brass, wood, and paint

Whitney Museum of American Art, New York
Purchase, with funds from the Howard and Jean Lipman Foundation, Inc., 1970
70.12

In Sphérique I, Alexander Calder investigates the nature of matter and volume. The solidity and density of the small solid sphere is contrasted with the volume of air that the circular and semicircular wires only partially encompass. Similarly, the painted black border on the base frames only two sides of the white square. Calder seems to encourage viewers to complete these forms in their imagination. Both Sphérique I and Croisière were included in Calder’s first exhibition of abstract sculptures in 1931.

Pablo Picasso (1881–1973)

Tête d’homme (Head of a Man), 1930

Iron, brass, and bronze

Musée national Picasso-Paris Pablo
Picasso Acceptance in Lieu, 1979
MP269

Pablo Picasso’s Head of a Man is composed of three major components: an oval skull-like back; a flat middle plate with pierced eyes, a nose, and a mustache; and a protruding, open mouth that seems designed to project sound into the surrounding space, all mounted atop a tapering conical base. Picasso thus deconstructs and reconfigures the anatomy of a human head into a set of volumes, voids, and planes. 

Alexander Calder (1898–1976)

Two Spheres Within a Sphere, 1931

Wire, wood, and paint

Calder Foundation, New York
Bequest of Mary Calder Rower, 2011

Alexander Calder observed, “The simplest forms in the universe are the sphere and the circle. I represent them by disks and then I vary them. My whole theory about art is the disparity that exists between form, masses, and movement. Even my triangles are spheres, but they are spheres of a different shape.” 

The Void & the Volume / In Suspense

“For though the lightness of a pierced or serrated solid or surface is extremely interesting the still greater lack of weight of deployed nuclei is much more so. I say nuclei, for to me whatever sphere, or other form, I use in these constructions does not necessarily mean a body of that size, shape or color, but may mean a more minute system of bodies, an atmos-pheric condition, or even a void.”

—Alexander Calder

“If one occupies oneself with what is full: that is, the object as positive form, the space around it is reduced to almost nothing. If one occupies oneself primarily with the space that surrounds the object, the object is reduced to almost nothing. What interests us most—what is outside or what is inside a form?”

—Pablo Picasso

Both Alexander Calder and Pablo Picasso responded in some degree to Surrealism, particularly through their interest in chance and the irrational. They also were deeply engaged with the concepts of volume and void—the relationship of mass to space—as well as ideas concerning weightlessness and suspension. During this period, Calder introduced dimensionality and movement into painting by suspending small floating and rotating elements in front of panels.

Alexander Calder (1898–1976)

Vertical Foliage, 1941

Sheet metal, wire, and paint

Calder Foundation, New York

Vertical Foliage comprises an elegant cascade of black elements that are subtly graduated by shape and size. At this time, Alexander Calder expanded his creation of large yet delicate mobiles that achieve a dynamic expression in space. He also perfected an anti-gravity effect with a system of weights and balances that made heavy elements seem to float in the air. 

Pablo Picasso (1881–1973)

Le Chapeau de paille au feuillage bleu (The Straw Hat with Blue Foliage), 1936

Oil on canvas

Musée national Picasso-Paris
Pablo Picasso Acceptance in Lieu, 1979
MP155

This Pablo Picasso portrait of Marie-Thérèse Walter pushes the outer boundaries of representation. Her head and neck appear to have been replaced by a solid vase (or an empty void), and her collar by a book, while her facial features have been rearranged into a distorted form that defies gravity and appears to float on the surface of the canvas.

Alexander Calder (1898–1976)

Untitled, 1933

Wood

Calder Foundation, New York

Alexander Calder allowed the original piece of wood to direct a sculpture’s final form, saying that he made “very little alteration in its shape–just enough to turn it into something different.” The visible tool marks animate this sculpture’s surface. Elements of a human figure, including the oval shape of a head, appear to grow organically out of the abstract block of wood.

Pablo Picasso (1881–1973)

Femme assise dans un fauteuil rouge (Woman Seated in a Red Armchair), 1932

Oil on canvas

Musée national Picasso-Paris
Pablo Picasso Acceptance in Lieu, 1979
MP139

Pablo Picasso’s deconstructed image of his mistress Marie-Thérèse Walter transforms her rounded body into a floating arrangement of bone and stone shapes that would collapse in the real world. These abstract volumes and voids, which correspond to similar forms that Picasso was simultaneously exploring in his sculptures, create a convincing sense of volume within the two-dimensional space of the canvas. 

Alexander Calder (1898–1976)

Untitled, 1942

Wood

Calder Foundation, New York

Pablo Picasso (1881–1973)

La Métamorphose II (The Metamorphosis II), 1928

Gilded bronze

Fundación Almine y Bernard Ruiz-Picasso para el Arte, Madrid

This bronze was cast from a plaster that was Pablo Picasso’s first idea for the memorial to the writer Guillaume Apollinaire, but differs dramatically from the subsequent metal-rod construction, also on view in this exhibition. La Métamorphose II abstracts elements of the female body, including a small head and an enormous animal-like foot. The arching arm or appendage plays with the concept of solid mass encompassing an empty void.

Alexander Calder (1898–1976)

Wooden Bottle with Hairs, 1943

Wood, steel, wire, and nails

Whitney Museum of American Art Purchase, with funds from the Howard and Jean Lipman Foundation, Inc., in honor of the Museum’s 50th Anniversary
80.28.2a–l 

Pablo Picasso (1881–1973)

Cercles et signes VI (Circles and Signs, VI), October 29, 1930

Cercles et signes V (Circles and Signs, V ), October 29, 1930

Feather and india ink on paper

Musée national Picasso-Paris
Pablo Picasso Acceptance in Lieu, 1979
MP1043 and MP1042

“Some followers of the Surrealist school discovered that my ink sketches and drawings are composed of dots and lines,” Pablo Picasso said. “It’s that I admire celestial maps. I think they’re beautiful, even if I don’t know what they mean.” 

Pablo Picasso (1881–1973)

Portrait de jeune fille (Portrait of a Young Girl), 1936

Oil on canvas

Musée national Picasso-Paris
Pablo Picasso Acceptance in Lieu, 1979
MP150 

Pablo Picasso (1881–1973)

Femme assise dans un fauteuil rouge (Woman Seated in a Red Armchair), 1929

Oil on canvas

Musée national Picasso-Paris
Pablo Picasso Acceptance in Lieu, 1979
MP112

Alexander Calder (1898–1976)

Little Yellow Panel, 1936

Wood, sheet metal, wire, string, and paint

Calder Foundation, New York

In the mid-1930s, Alexander Calder worked on a series of panel-and-wire-frame compositions that explored the idea of animating paintings with motion. He asked, “Why must art be static? You look at an abstraction, sculptured or painted, an intensely exciting arrangement of planes, spheres, nuclei, entirely without meaning. It would be perfect, but it is always still. The next step in sculpture is motion.”

Alexander Calder (1898–1976)

Constellation, 1943

Wood, wire, and paint

Calder Foundation, New York

During World War II, when sheet metal was in short supply, Alexander Calder worked on a new form of sculpture made of carved wood elements and wire. “I was interested in the extremely delicate, open composition,” he explained. Artist Marcel Duchamp and curator/critic James Johnson Sweeney named the series Constellations. Some are stabiles or standing mobiles, but most are mounted high on a wall, their heights dictated by the daring angles of their projecting elements.

Alexander Calder (1898–1976)

Red Sticks, ca. 1943

Wood, wire, string, and paint

Calder Foundation, New York 

Pablo Picasso (1881–1973)

Femme (Woman), June 8, 1946

Oil on plywood

Fundación Almine y Bernard Ruiz-Picasso para el Arte, Madrid 

Alexander Calder (1898–1976)

Constellation with Two Pins, 1943

Wood, wire, and paint

Calder Foundation, New York

Unidentified photographer

Alexander Calder and Pablo Picasso with Mercury Fountain in the Patio of the Spanish Pavilion at the Exposition Internationale de Paris, July 1937

Gelatin silver prints

Calder Foundation, New York

Alexander Calder (1898–1976)

Postcard to Pablo Picasso, August 1939

Ink on paper

Musée national Picasso-Paris
515AP/C/20/20/2

Pablo Picasso (1881–1973)

Tête de femme (Head of a Woman), November 30, 1939

Oil on canvas

Musée national Picasso-Paris
Pablo Picasso Acceptance in Lieu, 1979
MP183

Alexander Calder (1898–1976)

Untitled, 1933

Ink and gouache on paper

Calder Foundation, New York

Alexander Calder (1898–1976)

Untitled, 1932

Ink on paper

Calder Foundation, New York

Although this drawing is inherently two-dimensional and static, it radically reconceives our conceptions and representations of space, gravity, and movement. It demonstrates a theatrical dynamism and serves as a proposal for an animated dialogue of vectors, voids, and volumes set against an undefined backdrop.

Alexander Calder (1898–1976)

Grandeur-Immense, 1935

Drypoint (folio 7 from the book edited by Anatole Jakovski, 23 Gravures, printed by Lacourière, Paris and Tanneur, Paris; published by Orbitz et Cie., Paris, 1935)

Calder Foundation, New York

Pablo Picasso (1881–1973)

Sur la plage, Trois baigneuses (On the Beach, Three Bathers), 1932

Print, proof etching on copper, proof on laid Arches paper by hand, before steel cutting and bevels

Musée national Picasso-Paris
MP2217

In the Studio

Both Alexander Calder and Pablo Picasso filled their studios with a chaotic jumble of objects that ranged from fine art to salvaged junk. While some objects served purely as sources of inspiration, others were utilized as materials for their sculptures.

Calder’s biographer Jed Perl has observed: “The studio was a sacred dumping ground, from which new inventions emerged in unexpected ways.” Calder’s and Picasso’s contemporaneous studio paintings on view in this gallery give us insight on the artists’ creative spaces.

Pablo Picasso (1881–1973)

L’Atelier de La Californie de nuit (The Studio of La Californie at Night), July 13, 1958

Oil on canvas

Fundación Almine y Bernard Ruiz-Picasso para el Arte, Madrid

Pablo Picasso (1881–1973)

L’Atelier (The Studio), October 30–31, 1955

Oil on canvas

Tate, London
Presented by Gustav and Elly Kahnweiler, 1974, accessioned 1994
T06802

Pablo Picasso frequently depicted his studio—the realm of artistic creation—as a subject. This work shows the interior of the neo-Moorish villa La Californie in Cannes, France, where he lived between 1955 and 1961. Although the studio appears empty of people, the artist’s presence is felt through his brushes on the chair and the plaster bust on the stand.

Alexander Calder (1898–1976)

My Shop, 1955

Oil on canvas

Calder Foundation, New York

This view of Alexander Calder’s Roxbury, Connecticut, studio includes sixteen identifiable works from every phase of his career. A coal stove looms large in the right fore-ground. Like some of the paintings leaning against the wall, My Shop appears to be unfinished, but it is signed and dated. The concept of the unfinished or open-ended idea runs deep in all of Calder’s work—like a temporarily motionless mobile that projects potential energy, ready for activation.

Alexander Calder (1898–1976)

Black Lace, ca. 1947

Sheet metal, wire, and paint

Calder Foundation, New York

From certain vantage points, this monochromatic black mobile with three pierced elements seems to become more transparent. Alexander Calder here incorporates a variety of themes, including differing yet related motions, and the shifting lines between negative and positive space. Black Lace debuted in Calder’s 1948 exhibitions in Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, Brazil, which helped to confirm his stature as a truly international artist.

Alexander Calder (1898–1976)

Seven Black, Red and Blue, 1947

Oil on canvas

Calder Foundation, New York

Alexander Calder first ventured into abstraction with a series of oil paintings in 1930. During the 1940s and 1950s, he made a large number of paintings that incorporate bio-morphic shapes, floating discs, and spirals to evoke motion and space on a two-dimensional surface. Paintings such as Seven Black, Red and Blue underscore the complexities of Calder’s imagination—fluid and dynamic, and full of vibrancies and dissonances.

Pablo Picasso (1881–1973)

Femme dans un fauteuil (Woman in an Armchair), April 2, 1947

Oil on canvas

Musée national Picasso-Paris
On loan to Musée Picasso, Antibes
Pablo Picasso Acceptance in Lieu
MP1990-23

Pablo Picasso’s image of his lover Françoise Gilot seated in an armchair is one of a series of works in which he likens her to a flower, using organic forms derived from nature. Picasso strips her figure of all that is superfluous to distill its elementary structure and essential lines. Even more remarkably, he suggests that Gilot is partially transparent and that the voids in her body are equally significant sculptural forms.

Sculpting the Void

“Each of [the mobile’s] twists and turns is an inspiration of the moment. In it you can discern the theme composed by its maker, but the mobile weaves a thousand variations on it. It is a little hot-jazz tune, unique and ephemeral, like the sky, like the morning. If you missed it, it is lost forever.”

—Jean-Paul Sartre

“Each time I begin a painting, I have the feeling of leaping into the void. I never know whether I’ll land on my feet. Only later do I evaluate more exactly the effect of my work.” 

—Pablo Picasso

In the late 1930s and the 1940s, Alexander Calder created some of his most lyrical mobiles and standing mobiles, in which wire rods reach out and sculpt the empty space around them. Calder intuitively embraced the role of chance, rather than calculating in advance: 

“I start by cutting out a lot of shapes. Next, I file them and smooth them off. Some I keep because they’re pleasing or dynamic. Some are bits I just happen to find. Then I arrange them, like papier collé [paper collage] on a table, and ‘paint’ them—that is, arrange them, with wires between the pieces if it’s to be a mobile, for the overall pattern.”

Alexander Calder (1898–1976)

Untitled, ca. 1942

Sheet metal, wire, and paint

Calder Foundation, New York

“It only slowly dawned on me that this work of cold wire and sheet metal was sensuous, that the ever-shifting relationships within a mobile were refracting the same elemental and paradoxical forces in physics and human relations,” said playwright and friend Arthur Miller.

Pablo Picasso (1881–1973)

Tête de taureau (Bull’s Head), 1942

Bronze

Fundación Almine y Bernard Ruiz-Picasso para el Arte, Madrid

Pablo Picasso created the original assemblage for this bronze from a discarded bicycle seat and handle-bars. “In a flash, they joined together in my head. The idea of the Bull’s Head came to me before I had a chance to think. All I did was weld them together,” he said. Picasso was fascinated by the process of transformation and said that, ideally, he would discard the assemblage so that someone could use the seat and handlebars to repair a bicycle.

Alexander Calder (1898–1976)

Four Leaves and Three Petals, 1939

Sheet metal, wire, and paint

Centre Pompidou, Musée National d’Art Moderne, Paris
Estate of the Artist Acceptance in Lieu, 1983
AM 1983-56

Four Leaves and Three Petals was one of five models Alexander Calder created to replace plants with sheet-metal objects in a proposed but unrealized African Habitat designed by architect Oscar Nitzchke for New York City’s Bronx Zoo. Despite this sculpture’s title, Calder’s works were not intended as representa-tions of the natural world but rather as abstractions of the invisible forces that shape the natural world.

Alexander Calder (1898–1976)

Untitled, 1947

Sheet metal, wire, and paint

High Museum of Art
Gift of Carroll Thompson Sanders in memory of her husband, Professor Walter Benjamin Sanders
1978.14

Vanitas

During World War II (1939–1945), and even after the Liberation of Paris in August 1944, Pablo Picasso worked with somber themes related to death. In 1946, he left Paris and settled permanently in the South of France, where in 1955 he purchased the villa La Californie in the hills above Cannes. 

After leaving Paris for the United States in 1933, Alexander Calder alternated living in New York City and in Roxbury, Connecticut, which soon became his family’s permanent home. However, in the 1950s he returned to France for extended periods to live and work, and in 1953 he acquired a property in the village of Saché in the Loire Valley. 

Picasso and Calder crossed paths twice during the post–World War II period, in 1952 in Antibes and again in 1953 at Vallauris, where Picasso was creating his ceramics. These were the last two documented personal encounters between the two artists. 

Alexander Calder (1898–1976)

Dispersed Objects with Brass Gong, 1948

Brass, sheet metal, wire, and paint

Private collection

Alexander Calder ingeniously introduced the element of sound into several of his mobiles. In this example, a small red spiral randomly strikes the round brass gong when moved by air currents. Although it is tempting to think that the sound is the most distinctive element of this sculpture, it is perhaps more accurate to say that sound merely under-scores qualities that are present in every Calder mobile, including motion, tempo, and time.

Alexander Calder (1898–1976)

Helmet with Eyes, 1946

Oil on canvas

Calder Foundation, New York

Pablo Picasso (1881–1973)

Vanité (Vanitas), December 27, 1946

Oil on canvas

Fundación Almine y Bernard Ruiz-Picasso para el Arte, Madrid

This tabletop still life serves as a vanitas, a traditional type of painting that reminds us of the inevitability of human mortality. The deformed cube, with one side bearing a draw-ing of a skull, and another an abstracted head with a star constellation reminiscent of Pablo Picasso’s similar draw-ings, suggests that our fate is written in the stars. Created the year after World War II ended, the painting may com-memorate the millions who perished in the conflict.

Alexander Calder (1898–1976)

Ahab, 1953

Sheet metal, wire, and paint

Minneapolis Institute of Arts
Gift of Bruce B. Dayton and Mr. and Mrs. Gerald A. Erickson, by exchange
83.77A–F

The title for this mobile, Ahab, references the whaling ship captain who searches for the legendary white whale in Herman Melville’s novel Moby-Dick; or, The Whale (1851). However, like all of Calder’s works, this mobile is not an illustration of any particular subject. Instead, the title may draw the viewer’s attention to the formal qualities of plunging and ascending forms, and evoke the artist’s own lifelong search for new abstract forms.

Pablo Picasso (1881–1973)

Still Life with Skull, Leeks, and Pitcher, March 14, 1945

Oil on canvas

Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, Museum purchase, Whitney Warren Jr. Bequest Fund in memory of Mrs. Adolph B. Spreckels, Grover A. Magnin Bequest Fund, Roscoe and Margaret Oakes Income Fund and Bequest of Mr. and Mrs. Frederick J. Hellman, by exchange
1992.1

As a critic of fascism, Pablo Picasso was vulnerable to arrest in German-occupied Paris during World War II. Accordingly, he developed a coded visual language to address the struggle between democracy and fascism. In this still life painted after the Liberation of Paris, the black-and-white skull and the bone-like leeks are contrasted with a water pitcher decorated with the red, white, and blue colors of the French flag. The surrounding room is filled with light, suggesting the dawn of a new era.

Pablo Picasso (1881–1973)

Les Baigneurs: la femme aux bras écartés (The Bathers: The Woman with Outstretched Arms), summer 1956

Bronze

Musée national Picasso-Paris
Pablo Picasso Acceptance in Lieu, 1979
MP356

Pablo Picasso (1881–1973)

Les Baigneurs: la plongeuse (The Bathers: Woman Diver), summer 1956

Bronze

Musée national Picasso-Paris
Pablo Picasso Acceptance in Lieu, 1979
MP352

Pablo Picasso (1881–1973)

Les Baigneurs: l’enfant (The Bathers: The Child), summer 1956

Bronze

Musée national Picasso-Paris
Pablo Picasso Acceptance in Lieu, 1979
MP355

Fascinated by the shadows cast by bathers on the beach in the French Riviera town of Antibes, Pablo Picasso created six sculptures, three of which are shown here. The original figures were assembled from wooden planks and an astonishing array of found objects—bed legs, broomsticks, and picture frames—before being cast in bronze. Like shadows, the flattened forms of these sculptures are nearly two-dimensional, emphasizing their strong silhouettes.

Pablo Picasso (1881–1973)

Nu debout (Standing Nude), June 28, 1946

Color pencils on wove drawing paper

Musée national Picasso-Paris
Pablo Picasso Acceptance in Lieu, 1979
MP1362, MP1364, and MP1366

Alexander Calder (1898–1976)

Bifurcated Tower, 1950

Sheet metal, rod, wire, wood, and paint

Whitney Museum of American Art, New York
Purchase, with funds from the Howard and Jean Lipman Foundation, Inc., and exchange
1973.73.31a–f

In the 1950s, Alexander Calder invented a new type of wall sculpture: the “tower.” Related structurally to his Constellations, these delicate compositions consisting of wire struts and supports are cantilevered out from the wall, with moving objects suspended from their armatures. The architectural nature of these elements subtly suggests that these sculptures might be in the process of creating or constructing themselves.

Making & Deconstructing

“The admission of approximation is necessary, for one cannot hope to be absolute in his precision. He cannot see, or even conceive of a thing from all possible points of view, simultaneously.”

—AlexanderCalder

“You must aim hard at likeness to get to the sign. For me, surreality is simply that, and has never been anything else, the profound likeness beyond the shapes and colors by means of which things present themselves.”

—Pablo Picasso

Both Alexander Calder and Pablo Picasso recognized and embraced the potential of the artist to reimagine both visible and invisible worlds through the related processes of constructing and deconstructing subjects and forms in art. 

For Calder, this process often was one of construction—creating, combining, and activating abstract elements to explore a larger and ever-evolving conception of space—beyond the three dimensions in which we live. For Picasso, this process often was one of deconstruction—destroying, dissecting, and distilling existing subjects to reveal multiple realities, or surrealities. Both artists sought to visualize deeper truths that expand our sense of the possible in art.

Alexander Calder (1898–1976)

Impartial Forms, 1946

Oil on canvas

Calder Foundation, New York

Alexander Calder (1898–1976)

Scarlet Digitals, 1945

Sheet metal, wire, and paint

Calder Foundation, New York
Promised gift of Alexander S.C. Rower

Alexander Calder’s Scarlet Digitals presents three initial perspectives: looking up, eye-level, and looking down. Set in motion, this sculpture expands the implied spatial volumes encompassed by its projecting and rotating elements. The unique, chance gestures of Calder’s mobiles served as a prelude to those of Abstract Expressionism, while their chance movements inspired John Cage, who composed the musical score for the film Works of Calder (1950)—on view in the Media Room adjacent to this exhibition.

Pablo Picasso (1881–1973)

Le Taureau (The Bull ), December 1945–January 1946

Lithograph, wash, pen, and scrapings on stone, printed on paper, eleven states

Fundación Almine y Bernard Ruiz-Picasso para el Arte, Madrid

Pablo Picasso’s bulls symbolize his Spanish heritage. He produced eleven different states of this lithograph, progressively reducing the bull from a fully three-dimensional animal to a distilled two-dimensional outline to capture its essential essence. The printer Fernand Mourlot recalled: “Each time he simplified the drawing; it became more and more geometric, with areas of flat black … [T]o arrive at his bull in a single line, he had to pass through all the others before.”

Alexander Calder (1898–1976)

Dancer, 1944

Bronze (in four parts)

Calder Foundation, New York

Pablo Picasso (1881–1973)

Vase à la fleur (Vase with Flower), 1951

Bronze

Fundación Almine y Bernard Ruiz-Picasso para el Arte, Madrid

In the early 1950s, Pablo Picasso created several metal and ceramic sculptural still lifes of flowers in a vase. Vase with Flower illustrates the ease with which he transformed found objects into imagery in his sculptures, in this case using a cake tin for the flower. Picasso challenges the viewer’s expectations by depicting a soft and fragile flower in hard and durable cast bronze.

Alexander Calder (1898–1976)

On One Knee, 1944

Aluminum (in six parts)

Calder Foundation, New York

Alexander Calder (1898–1976)

Triple Gong, ca. 1948

Brass, sheet metal, wire, and paint

Calder Foundation, New York
Promised gift of Holton Rower

Gravity & Grace

“Alexander Calder has done something different. The 1943–44 works at Buchholz Gallery have a new sturdiness and vigor, which will surprise many who think of him as the composer of weaving wires and tremulous leaves. These forms are modeled, leaving rough surfaces, and then cast by the lost wax process in either plaster or bronze. Being considerably heavier than formerly, their motion becomes more purposeful . . .”

—“The Passing Shows,” Art News
December 15, 1944

In 1944, architect Wallace K. Harrison invited Alexander Calder to create models for a modern architecture project that was never realized. Carved and modeled in plaster before they were cast in bronze and aluminum, these works represent an unusual excursion into solid and fully three-dimensional sculpture for Calder. 

It is important to remember that these audacious sculptures were not intended for a private home, nor were they conceived on a human scale. Instead, they were envisioned as giant public monuments, thirty to forty feet tall, with enormous cast concrete elements dangerously floating above the pedestrians below. Much of their appeal lies in the fact that they appear to be simultaneously earthbound and buoyant. 

Alexander Calder (1898–1976)

Tightrope Worker, 1944

Bronze, rod, and string (in three parts)

Calder Foundation, New York

Alexander Calder’s Tightrope Worker subject explicitly visualizes qualities that are always present in his own work: skill and balance. By titling his subject “worker” instead of the more common “walker,” Calder emphasizes the effort required for both the real-life and sculptural versions of the subject.

Pablo Picasso (1881–1973)

Couple, 1970–1971

Oil on canvas

Musée national Picasso-Paris
On loan to Centre Pompidou, Musée National d’Art Moderne, Paris, Jacqueline Picasso Acceptance in Lieu, 1990
MP1990-41

Returning late in his career to the subject of the nude figure, Pablo Picasso remarked, “I want to speak the nude; I don’t want to just make a nude as a nude; I want only to speak breast, speak foot, speak hands, belly . . . Find the means to speak and that is enough.” Some of these simplified works with strong silhouettes resemble two-dimensional versions of his flattened and folded sculptures.

Pablo Picasso (1881–1973)

Nu couché (Reclining Nude), June 14, 1967

Oil on canvas

Musée national Picasso-Paris
Pablo Picasso Acceptance in Lieu, 1979
MP219

Alexander Calder (1898–1976)

Untitled, ca. 1968

Sheet metal and rod

Calder Foundation, New York

Alexander Calder (1898–1976)

La Grande vitesse (1:5 intermediate maquette), 1969

Sheet metal, bolts, and paint

Calder Foundation, New York

In his last decade, Alexander Calder focused on large-scale public sculpture commissions. This is a model for a vibrant red sculpture installed in the plaza of the Grand Rapids, Michigan, City Hall. “It’s really just for differentiation, but I love red so much that I almost want to paint everything red,” Calder said in the 1960s. The bold, curving shapes summarize Calder’s lifelong interest in creating a dialogue between voids and volumes.

Piercing & Folding

“Form, content, form, content … What is form? What is content? The content of the wild strawberry is its seed, and the seed of the wild strawberry is on the surface of the berry. So where is it, the content of the wild strawberry? Where is the form?”

—Pablo Picasso

“[Alexander Calder] has taken a given space and, by molding beautiful elements of steel around it, caused it to become nonspace.”

—James Jones, writer

Drawing upon a lifetime of innovations and insights, Alexander Calder and Pablo Picasso displayed great freedom in their later works. Calder, who had been working with sheet metal as his primary material for decades, created both intimate works as well as monumental works for public spaces. Picasso continued to experiment with materials, including the sheet metal that he had used on a smaller scale for his famous Cubist Guitar sculpture (1914).

Both artists explored the idea of folding and piercing two-dimensional sheet metal to create the illusion of three-dimensional volume. These flattened sculptures challenged traditional definitions that equated sculpture with three-dimensional mass.

Arnold Newman (American, 1918–2006)

Alexander Calder in his Roxbury Studio, January 3, 1957

Vintage gelatin silver print 

Calder Foundation, New York

Arnold Newman (American, 1918–2006)

Portrait de Picasso accoudé à côté de “Tete de femme” en plâtre dans l’atelier du Fournas, Vallauris, le 2 juin 1954 (Portrait of Picasso Sitting Next to the Plaster “Head of a Woman” in the Fournas studio, Vallauris, June 2, 1954), June 2, 1954

Vintage gelatin silver print 

Musée national Picasso-Paris
APPH2493 

Alexander Calder (1898–1976)

Lightning (maquette), ca. 1956

Sheet metal and paint

Calder Foundation, New York

Alexander Calder (1898–1976)

Morning Cobweb (intermediate maquette), 1967

Sheet metal, bolts, and paint

Calder Foundation, New York

Enlarged from a small-scale stabile made two decades earlier, this version of Morning Cobweb is a model for the nearly 30-foot-tall sculpture installed at the entry of Alexander Calder’s 1969 retrospective at Fondation Maeght in Saint-Paul-de-Vence, France. While the architectonic elements of this sculpture are emphatically modern, they resonate with historical examples like the arched vaults and flying buttresses of Gothic architecture.

Alexander Calder (1898–1976)

Untitled, 1956

Sheet metal, wire, and paint

Calder Foundation, New York

Pablo Picasso (1881–1973)

Femme (Woman), 1961

Cut metal sheet, folded and painted

Fundación Almine y Bernard Ruiz-Picasso para el Arte, Madrid

Sheet metal was the final material with which Pablo Picasso reinvented himself as a sculptor. This small, elegant structure plays on the dialogue between substance (the bent right arm) and void (the cut-out left arm). The finished sculpture, painted white, retains much of the lightness and delicacy of the artist’s original paper model.

Alexander Calder (1898–1976)

Untitled, 1967

Ink and gouache on paper

Calder Foundation, New York

Alexander Calder (1898–1976)

Conical Gussets, 1956

Sheet metal and paint

Calder Foundation, New York
Purchase, 2016

Pablo Picasso (1881–1973)

Woman with Outstretched Arms, 1961

Painted iron

The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston
Gift of the Esther Florence Whinery Goodrich Foundation
66.15

Pablo Picasso’s life-size Woman with Outstretched Arms is one of his largest sheet-metal sculptures. Picasso first conceived the work in cut and folded paper and then translated it into metal, incorporating fragments of black metal grillwork to suggest both darker forms and shadows.

Pablo Picasso (1881–1973)

Tête de femme (Head of a Woman), 1962

Cut sheet metal, folded and polychromed wire

Musée national Picasso-Paris
Pablo Picasso Acceptance in Lieu, 1979
MP366

Alexander Calder (1898–1976)

Louisa’s Valentine, 1955

Sheet metal, brass, wire, and paint

Calder Foundation, New York

Alexander Calder often made artworks for his friends and family, including a number of valentines. He created an intricate wire object that spelled out “To My Valentine” for his mother in 1925, which was among his earliest works in wire; he made a hanging mobile of hearts for his daughter Mary in 1952. He created this standing mobile, with a miniature mobile animating the heart-shaped void, for his wife, Louisa, in 1955. 

Alexander Calder (1898–1976)

Untitled, 1955

Sheet metal, wire, and paint

Calder Foundation, New York

“A light breeze, an electric motor, or both in the form of an electric fan, start in motion weights, counter-weights, levers which design in mid-air their unpredictable arabesques and introduce an element of lasting surprise,” observed artist Marcel Duchamp. “The symphony is complete when color and sound join in and call on all of our senses to follow the unwritten score. Pure joie de vivre. The art of Calder is the sublimation of a tree in the wind.”