“I think best in wire,” Calder once commented. The artist bent, pinched, and twisted strands of wire to fashion this tribute to Josephine Baker, one of the most celebrated performers of her day. For Calder, wire’s appeal was that it “moves of its own volition” and “goes off into wild scrolls and tight tendrils”—a description that suits this portrait particularly well. But, while Josephine Baker III was innovative in its formal qualities, the exaggerated features of Calder’s depiction were in keeping with harmful caricatures of Black people in popular entertainment. Though Calder eventually dedicated himself entirely to abstract art, this figurative work—likely one of his first in wire—was a critical touchpoint for his lifelong interest in motion and shadow.
Gallery label from Alexander Calder: Modern from the Start, 2021