The Spider, 1940 Painted sheet metal and steel rod, 95 x 99 x 73 in. (241.3 x 251.5 x 185.4 cm.)
Raymond and Patsy Nasher Collection, Dallas, Texas
Calder pioneered the form of the standing mobile around 1930 and developed it in such major works as the Calderberry Bush (1932) and The Praying Mantis (1936). Spider of 1940, following in the same path, was one of Calder's largest indoor works in the genre to that date. A 1939 version (Spider, 78 ¾ inches high, in Alexander Calder, The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, 1964, p. 72) has an archlike stand and a more horizontal disposition of elements. The Nasher version, resting on a tripod stand, evolved from a small maquette, c. 1940, titled Little Spider (Calder's Universe, 1976-77, cat. p. 273). The latter, which has a slightly different rhythm of parts and selectively colored "petals," has more strands than the final sculpture. Despite the stark black-and-white coloration of the final version, its primary effect is one of lightness and delicacy, of graceful movement combining leaflike appendages with long spidery legs or branches. Each element, cut or shaped by Calder, preserves a quality of handworked liveliness. With its compound suspensions and balances, The Spider responds readily to the slightest air current and offers one of the finest examples of the resolution in such works between opposing states: stability and mobility, suspension and support, the geometric and organic. Calder would again vary the theme with his Hanging Spider mobile, c. 1940, and, much later, with two large stabiles called Spider and Big Spider (see Calder: An Autobiography with Pictures, New York, 1966, pp. 228-29).
Herbert Matter, longtime owner of this work, was a filmmaker and photographer and a personal friend of Calder's. He saw The Spider in an exhibition in 1941 and purchased it form the show (documentation courtesy Marlborough Gallery). A film he made on Calder includes footage of this work.