Although Gibraltar is abstract, a connection is easily made between its base—a weighty lump of lignum vitae (a tropical hardwood)—and the Mediterranean rock that gives the work its name. This mass of wood is rough and solid and seemingly unshaped. More delicate, and more clearly marked by human artifice, are the work’s sloping plane of walnut, its painted wood ball, and its two steel rods topped with a crescent and a sphere, respectively. Gibraltar’s biomorphic forms recall those of Surrealism, and Calder’s whimsical vocabulary is rooted in the movement’s legacy.
The sculpture is contradictory in its qualities. The rods are thin and linear and express an upward, airborne drive and eccentric balance; the lignum vitae is heavy, earth-hugging, and solid. The surfaces, too, featuring various materials variously treated, imply methods from machine making to hand-polishing to leaving well enough alone. These disjunctions have a good-humored wit that does not disguise the work’s grace. Calder once said that “the underlying sense of form” in his work was “the system of the Universe,” and Gibraltar, with its sun, moon, and heavy earth, explores the spatial drama of the solar system in miniature.
Publication excerpt from MoMA Highlights: 375 Works from The Museum of Modern Art, New York (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2019)