Alexander Calder’s Mobile Mania

Big Red, Alexander Calder
‘Big Red,’ Alexander Calder, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York

‘Big Red,’ Alexander Calder, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York

A key performer in quantifying the sky-high contemporary market

Alexander Calder invented the mobile. They’re primarily wire, sheet metal and paint. They’re incredibly simple to the naked eye and can be difficult to place in private settings to maximize the view the artist intended. Yet Calder’s magical mobiles have consistently commanded top dollar in private and public markets for 10 plus years.

Veritas recently handled an undiscovered Calder mobile for a Chicago estate. (image one) ….describe it here….

As all art world professionals know, attempting to identify a fleeting fad versus a potential long-term performer can be tricky. All art professionals are aware of the current Basquiat fever flooding the marketplace. Is it a fad or are those record-breaking prices here to stay?

When placed in the overall context of the contemporary market, the consistent demand for Calder’s mobiles is a key analytical tool when attempting to make this distinction. 

Here’e some data to back this up – since 2009, the total hammer price for Calder pieces stayed steady between 22 and 52 million. That is an almost 10 year run and he is showing no signs of decline. In fact, by the first half of 2016, Calder impressively edged out Warhol, the standard contemporary market leader in total hammer price. In 2016, Calder once again edged out Warhol on average price per piece at auction with Calder hovering at $600,00 and Warhol at $150,000.

Nobody can predict the artists who will follow in the Calder market’s footsteps. But it would be prudent to consider the value characteristics of Calder’s mobiles as well as the historical context in which they were produced when looking at other artists trending in Calder’s trajectory.

Making those considerations is another topic in itself but I will argue that the consistent demand for Calder mobiles could be summed up in Calder’s own words -“Why must art be static?”

Carrie Baker,
Veritas Fine Art Appraisals & Consulting LLC