11 January, 2011

11 Jan - Alexander Calder & the Benefits of Needlepoint

LAUNCHPROJECTS - Last Monday's "Antiques Roadshow" was a lesson in the appreciation of art. And that the knack for needlepointing could get you much further than you might expect. The piece in question was an Alexander Calder mobile made around 1950. The owner had inherited the mobile from her aunt who had been an acquaintance of Calder. The aunt, a great fan of his work, had invited Calder to a cocktail party and gave him a needlepoint pillow she had done of one of his earlier works. Apparently Calder was astounded, and a couple of days later returned with the mobile as a thank-you for the pillow. In short, she believed it to be worth around $30,000. The appraiser, Christopher Kennedy, informed her that it "had increased in value a little since then" and informed her that it could conceivably fetch over $1M at auction. He proceeded to say "not bad for a pillow." Which got me thinking, I might just take up needlepoint.

The following is the appraisal transcript from the PBS website. The video and an interview with the owner in on the PBS website.

GUEST: It's a mobile by Alexander Calder, and Calder gave it to my aunt. My aunt and uncle were having a cocktail party, and Calder was visiting friends of theirs who were invited to the party, so they took Calder along. And my aunt was very creative, and among other things, she had done a needlepoint pillow of one of Calder's works. And he was astounded. He'd never seen one like that before. And so she gave it to him, and a couple of days later, somebody appeared at the doorway, and he had given her this mobile as a thank-you for the pillow.

APPRAISER: You've owned this for a while-- since 1985, I believe.

GUEST: Yeah.

APPRAISER: And you had a slight restoration to it in 1986. Some of the colors were touched up a little bit.


APPRAISER: And clearly that's going to have an effect on the value, to a certain degree. This was originally given to your aunt in 1958.


APPRAISER: But this probably, as far as the actual date of construction, dates a little bit earlier than 1958.

GUEST: Oh, yes. I think it's... early '40s was a guess.

APPRAISER: Alexander Calder essentially invented the art form known as a mobile.

GUEST: Right.

APPRAISER: And it became very iconic of 1950s modern art. And I think the late '50s sort of marks a turning point where he begins to concentrate more on larger installations. It's made on very thin wire, and then these are usually either aluminum or an anodized, weather-resistant material that.. slipped in and then very delicately soldered. And you can see in here where all of the knots and joints, all put in, in a very balancing kind of format. He always liked the use of primary colors. This back one is a little bit more of an orange, and some of the other appraisers on the set thought this might be a little bit unusual for a color. We should mention the Alexander Calder Foundation.


APPRAISER: Which is a major element in both identifying the work of Alexander Calder, authenticating it, and I believe that you had sent some letters, some documentation.

GUEST: We've sent the documentation and a transparency, and they just said they would need to look at it in person, and we haven't gone to New York to do that.

APPRAISER: Calder Association is, like any foundation, is set up so that an artist's work are not diluted. And that's why they're very diligent about keeping up to make sure that things are authenticated so if that they are sold, that they do have that stamp of approval...

GUEST: Right.

APPRAISER: ...or of authenticity. I know that earlier, back in the late '80s or '90s, you had an approximate value of what it was worth?

GUEST: The man who restored it said at least $30,000.

APPRAISER: It's gained a little bit in value since then. We worked on the values to somewhat of a consensus and it still needs to be validated. Based upon that, a fair auction value, the range is somewhere between $400,000 and $600,000.

GUEST: How much?

APPRAISER: $400,000 to $600,000 at auction as somewhat of a wholesale price. Right now, Alexander Calder's market is extremely hot, and in a good retail setting, it would not be at all inconceivable that this very small, wonderful piece of art could probably break $1 million.

GUEST: Oh, my God.

APPRAISER: Not bad for a pillow.

GUEST: Oh! My problem is, I've got one mobile and two children. (both laughing)

APPRAISER: I'm sure your husband, who is watching off-camera, will be equally happy with the good news.

GUEST: (laughing): Oh, I think so.

Images: The Calder in question, my newest how-to book (the man approach might be best for my skill set)

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