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When Alexander Calder first exhibited Spring (Printemps, 1928) along with other wire creations in the 1928 exhibition of the Society of Independent Artists, the New York Times heralded the arrival of his nontraditional sculptural materials in a review declaring “Copper wire and bureau drawer knobs made their first appearance as mediums of artistic expression yesterday.” Calder, the son and grandson of classical sculptors, attributed his turn away from modeling clay or “mud” to his “childhood as a boy in the midst of my family, always enthusiastic about toys and string, and always a junkman of bits of wire and all the prettiest stuff in the garbage can.”
The allegorical Spring is monumental in subject and scale, standing over seven feet tall. Like a spontaneous line drawing, her form is described by both sweeping outlines and intricate detail—the looped flower in her hand, the undulating strand of hair, or the artist’s clever signature dangling below her waist. In New York, audiences reportedly tugged at her breasts, wood doorstops bought at the five-and-ten-cent store, and while on view at the Salon des Independents in Paris in 1929, viewers pulled her to the side, allowing her to sway back and forth. Calder then rolled Spring into a bale with another wire sculpture and stored the works with a friend until his 1964–65 retrospective at the Guggenheim. According to Calder, when he disentangled the thirty-five year old Spring, she “had all the freshness of youth—of my youth.”
At the Galerie Percier in Paris in 1931, Calder’s earlier wire portraits of celebrated friends and personalities were hung at the ceiling, overseeing his newest work, abstractions of wire with spheres and blocks of wood, many kinetic. Calder later referred to these works as “Universes.” For much of the 1930s and like other artists engaged with abstraction after World War I, Calder used cosmic descriptions and scientific terminology: “I felt that there was no better model for me . . . . Spheres of different sizes, densities, colors and volumes, floating in space, traversing clouds . . . currents of air, viscosities, and odors—of the greatest variety and disparity.” In particular, the sphere and circular forms held the potential for “cosmic or universal feeling,” and Calder lamented that he couldn’t “suspend a sphere without any means of support.” In this untitled standing mobile, the artist suspended five painted wood orbs of varied dimensions, carefully counterbalanced to appear almost weightless as they circulate and rotate in relation to each other. An imagined solar system, the work predates Calder’s independently hanging mobiles, where finer, less visible, wires anchored to the ceiling would replace Untitled’s (1935) earthbound wooden base, inverted L-shaped support, and restricted movement.