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Alexander Calder
23 feuilles à l’écart (23 Spreading Leaves), 1945

Artwork Info

Artwork title
23 feuilles à l’écart (23 Spreading Leaves)
Artist name
Alexander Calder
Date created
metal and paint
64 in. × 116 1/2 in. × 99 in. (162.56 cm × 295.91 cm × 251.46 cm)
The Doris and Donald Fisher Collection at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
© Calder Foundation, New York / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Permanent URL
Artwork status
On view on floor 3 as part of Alexander Calder: Dissonant Harmony

While the French title of this work gestures to the significance of the extended periods Calder spent in France throughout his career, the artist made 23 Spreading Leaves in the large studio he built in 1938 on his property in Roxbury, Connecticut. Reminiscent of the lush pastoral setting that surrounded his work space, the cascading network of thin metal elements, affixed with hooks to arching wires, twists and rustles by chance like the branches of a tree.

As Calder once wrote: “There are environments that appear to remain fixed whilst there are small occurrences that take place at great speed across them. . . . As truly serious art must follow the greater laws, and not only appearances, I try to put all the elements in motion in my mobile sculptures. It is a matter of harmonizing these movements, thus arriving at a new possibility of beauty.” Whether set in motion by a gentle breeze or by manual manipulation, 23 Spreading Leaves exemplifies how the artist distilled and reinvented the movements of his natural environs in his sculpture.

Audio Stories

How Calder invented mobiles

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In 1932, Alexander Calder wrote, “Why must art be static? You look at an abstraction, sculptured or painted, an entirely 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.



It is hard to imagine that the mobile actually was invented, the idea of the mobile is now so ubiquitous.



Curator Gary Garrels.




We see mobiles in many forms everywhere, but this was actually invented by Alexander Calder in Paris in the thirties. He was influenced by the Surrealists and their interest in chance; that we do not have total rational control of our thinking or of our experience in life. Calder was interested in how sculpture might give a voice to that. And by making the mobile, there are a set vocabulary of forms and possibilities of certain combinations and shapes, the way the piece relates to space. But on the other hand, it’s indeterminate; that the elements can move freely from the influence of air currents.



There was no name for such a thing—a sculpture set loose in space—free to move with each passing breeze. So Calder asked his friend, artist Marcel Duchamp, what he should call them. Duchamp’s answer? “Mobile,” the French word for “movable” as well as “motive.” Duchamp and Calder loved puns and double-entendres. “Motive” suggested that a sculpture might have a mind of its own.

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Other Works by Alexander Calder

See other works by Alexander Calder

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