84773 Untitled 1939

Alexander Calder, 1939, sheet metal, rod, wire, and paint, 55-1/2" × 64-1/2" (141 cm × 163.8 cm) © 2023 Calder Foundation, New York / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York


Writings on Calder

By Richard Tuttle

Published Friday, Jan 20, 2023

These texts are taken from an upcoming catalogue produced by Pace Publishing on the occasion of the exhibition Calder/Tuttle:Tentative at Pace Gallery in Los Angeles.

Calder I

I don’t like going far for content. This afternoon the furnace ignited over and over. “Why do we need heat on a summer day?” I asked. Did we forget to turn down the thermostats? Impossible. At last, I went around to make sure the thermostats were all turned down. I heard water rushing and saw it coming down the stairs like a waterfall. In the bathroom hot water exploded from under the sink. Disaster! How to curb it? How to stop it? Finally, I figured out how to turn off the water at a shut off valve.

Content should be authentic, and authenticity should be actual. The flood was authentic, and the experience of it actual. Could I get this content into an artwork, not to test skills, but to see art?

Calder’s mobiles cut into space, perpetually creating the actual. But can we see the actual? Or pretend we see it? What can we bring to pretending that hasn’t been seen, done, or made in the authentic by Calder? Is it air? Can we divest ourselves of measurables to become the air? Blow the mobile backwards to make content, this artist showing us how to participate in making our own art? Could content, then, be responsibility in sharing? Is this why liberation comes as so real?


84766 Little Mobile for Table’s Edge

Alexander Calder, Little Mobile for Table's Edge, c. 1939, sheet metal, wire, and paint, 19" × 24" × 1-3/8" (48.3 cm × 61 cm × 3.5 cm) © 2023 Calder Foundation, New York / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Calder III

I have so much respect for how Calder handled detail. Ideas want to complete themselves, fulfilling a natural course. What this is, where and how it happens, is something a sculptor needs to stay on top of. It’s not just about choosing the right wire. It’s about what that wire is asked to do. It’s not an inherent quality of the wire—that is nature—it is the difference between the wire and what it’s asked to do. The fineness of this distinction when demonstrated, not to show off but as necessity, is there, in short, for the artist to say what wants to be said.

If we put ourselves in Calder’s shoes, we can find “air” coming in many forms. Like sound, it can express. Sound is audible, air, invisible. Did Calder ask how air can be like sound? I think he did. As an artist, he could identify with air to the extent of becoming like it. He could articulate it as expression, knowing air was analogous to knowing himself. He would have to be careful and was tempted to make mistakes for hundreds of reasons. In the end there would be something visible that would make sense, or not, outside himself, needing no proof other than itself suspended and not complete as idea.


84760 Sphere Pierced by Cylinders

Alexander Calder, Sphere Pierced by Cylinders, 1939, wire and paint, 83" × 34" × 43" (210.8 cm × 86.4 cm × 109.2 cm) © 2023 Calder Foundation, New York / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Calder VII

What is the vertical? For a tree? For us? Is it an illusion within nature? Or does it only exist in the mind?

Calder seems to play between nature’s vertical and his own. I have been looking for the vertical, but what it is I do not know. I feel I will know it when I see it. Yesterday, the twelve assembled Calder Corrected drawings laid out next to each other on a long table produced a vertical from all their joined, central edges, for they are diptychs. This vertical was sculptural, concrete, and physical. Of the body. It used the orientation of the drawing and the horizontality of the table to produce something that looked like a true vertical. It made me wonder what Calder thought of his body. Coming from generations of sculptors involved with the vertical, it could have been intuited from some sort of physicality. The noteworthy quality of the mobiles is their physicality, yet they ease into an intellectual space with finesse, generosity, and even intentionality, losing some of their physicality in doing so.

My own involvement with the vertical, perhaps, is a bit more demanding. Do I want it in isolation, in some purer form? Agnes Martin returned the horizontal line to its normal, non-bifurcated, original state, its everyday use, leaving it for future generations to explore as she did. Is there a vertical equivalent? Is that what I am looking for? In such a case, not physical, not intellectual, not contrasted nor constructed toward nor out of space, time-intuited, immediate, something to hang my dreams onto without making them real thereby but open to my understanding?


84834 Untitled, c. 1939

Alexander Calder, c. 1939, wire, string, and paint, 75" × 67" × 8-1/2" (190.5 cm × 170.2 cm × 21.6 cm) © 2023 Calder Foundation, New York / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Calder XIV

The impossibility of doing anything—maintenance, insurance, banking, real estate, business, computers, etc.—has caused me to judge myself harshly. Not that I feel alone; others who have their heads in the clouds suffer like me, too. My friend Herb Vogel couldn’t buy a train ticket, certainly never touched a computer. Agnes Martin couldn’t figure out how to play her recorded music.

Such a lack of practical skills can lead to dependency on others. I say I can do everything that needs to be done. Maybe that is true, but I don’t do it. In some ways this is a statement about rejecting self-reliance, but where is the place for just not being talented in my assessment? Taking physics in college was a trial of witness between talent, subject, and, yes, escape from myself—I was lost after the second class. Maybe this was because my thoughts led me to things closer to my real interest?

When Calder finished a work, it was released and went into the world. The world took it. In a work of his, I see a thread that leads back to him and the origin of the work, perhaps even the cause that began that process. I include this in the work as the work. There is always a missing subject in a finished work of Calder as exhibited, and that subject is the artist. Without the artist included the work becomes formal and more about painting than sculpture, which is alright for “painting.” Calder made a lasting contribution to painting and offered a challenge: Pollock’s “drip” was not a drip, but painting, an achievement thereafter associated with “the luminous.”


  • Essays — Writings on Calder, by Richard Tuttle, Jan 20, 2023