American sculptor Alexander Calder is perhaps best known for his invention of the mobile as an art form and the delicate poise he gave to each of his brightly coloured geometric pieces. However, this autumn his lesser-known series of tapestries make their art market debut at PAD London, bringing with them an intriguing tale of Guatemalan loss restored.
In 1972, two days before Christmas, an earthquake beneath the surface of the earth in neighbouring Nicaragua killed 5,000 people and left 250,000 destitute. The devastation attracted the grandiose sympathies of Richard Nixon and Pope Paul VI, who both made lengthy public orations, but it was Manhattan socialite Kitty Meyer who set her sights on a huge visual arts project as a means to fund rebuilding. Only five artists responded to her written pleas for lithographs, one of them Calder, newly settled in his futuristic workshop at Indre-et-Loire in central France. As a token of gratitude, Meyer, a former Holocaust refugee to Nicaragua, paid him a personal visit bearing a Masaya hammock as a gift.
Calder was so captivated by the craftsmanship of this Nicaraguan creation that he commissioned 100 local weavers to make a host of new ones following eight of his own designs, along with a range of wall hangings. A collection of 14 further tapestries in limited editions then followed; a whim had blossomed into a distinctive creative sideline. In the spirit of Meyer’s altruistic vision, each of these was funded by paying workers four times the usual rate. The resulting untitled works retain Calder’s distinctive palette, but assume an uncharacteristic sturdiness in their thick braided weave. A selection of these unconventional but highly beautiful tapestries – all created before the artist’s death in 1976 – will be offered for £12,000 each by the Parisian Galerie du Passage at PAD in Berkeley Square.
As a 21st-century accompaniment to Calder’s hangings, the gallery has also specially commissioned striking angular furniture with a collaborative aesthetic by leading Paris-based designer Vincent Darré.