The Arch is among the last of the monumental works Alexander Calder created before his death in 1976. Based on a nineteen-inch-high model that the artist conceived around 1940, The Arch was enlarged from a twelve-foot-high black-painted steel maquette in 1975. Its dramatic composition melds the biomorphic and architectonic aspects that characterize Calder’s work and creates an impressive, multi-layered image. The full-scale, painted steel sculpture is set in a field of tall native grasses. The open parabolic arch, an element from the vocabulary of building, is meant to entice visitors to pass through its portal and discover its buoyant forms from unexpected vantage points. Passage through Calder’s arch draws attention to the work itself as well as to the rural surroundings.
The sculpture is composed of three elements: a bent “boomerang” on one side, joined by a central arch to a tall, concave fan shape, with an elongated upper portion capped by a small triangular “tail.” The work offers many different views, depending on the angle of approach. At certain vantage points, the black surface looks flat, punctuated by the many lines of bolts securing the steel. From another angle, the structurally supportive ribs give the inert steel structure a sense of grace and movement. The tall, triangular element seems to grow straight up from the ground, monumental but not overbearing.
Calder is renowned as a pioneer of abstract sculpture. He studied mech-anical engineering before he attended the Art Students League in New York. His artistic sensibility flourished in the heady climate of 1920s Paris, where he befriended Joan Miró and Paul Klee. Calder’s mature works reflect these early influences in his combination of direct methods with Surrealist, often biomorphic, imagery. He began making abstract constructions after a visit to Piet Mondrian’s studio in 1930. A year later he conceived his first mobiles, a term invented by Marcel Duchamp to describe Calder’s new kinetic sculptures. Jean Arp, in response to Duchamp, dubbed Calder’s motionless painted metal constructions stabiles. During the 1960s and 1970s the stabiles gained colossal proportions, appropriate to the public sites for which they were often commissioned.
The Arch was fabricated at Segre Ironworks in Waterbury, Connecticut, in 1975, the year before Calder’s death. In spring 1978 The Arch arrived at Storm King as a loan from the Estate of Alexander Calder and Knoedler Gallery; it was acquired in 1982 and painted at Storm King. The work was placed on a slightly raised mound shaped by a few feet of gravel, a site created by the late William A. Rutherford, Sr., Storm King’s landscape architect. It sits in the same location today—on the left side of the road leading to the Museum Building.
In the 1980s Rutherford designed a hillside near the Museum Building to expand exhibition space and create broad, gently sloping walking paths to sculptures located in the South Fields. Black Flag was installed on the site in 1999. Storm King has presented three exhibitions featuring works by Calder here, including a landmark installation of monumental sculpture outdoors, from 2001 through 2003. Occasionally the works on view on this hillside change. Five Swords, however, has been in the same location for more than twenty-five years.