At the preview for Roland Antiques’ sixth auction in their new space in Greenwich Village, I spotted an outstanding white hammock with a clearly Calderesque motif. It hung on the wall like a tapestry. I could see how a spreader bar would keep the soft structure taut. Since I have a thing for hammocks and a thing for Calder, I inquired.
Bill Roland, President of Roland Antiques, said what I was looking at was indeed a work by Alexander Calder, circa 1974. Its fair market value was expected run around $3,000 tops. Stunned, I set off to research this rarity.
At Artnet.com, I discovered that Calder was hugely impressed by the work of Central American artisans and weavers. He designed a set of 10 tapestries, after paintings, for weavers to execute in a form they knew well – hammocks. (If you haven’t seen a Latin American hammock, they are woven of fiber, cotton usually – sometimes from the finest embroidery thread – and are very soft. They are voluptuous enough for two and easily accommodate a mosquito net. Think Cancun hammocks swinging from Palapa beams and you get the idea.)
Calder was a political activist, a humanitarian. He foresaw the proceeds from the sales of the hammock tapestries benefiting earthquake victims in Latin America.
Using special European dyes in the Calder palette, teams of indigenous Nicaraguan hammock makers wove his designs into the basic white format. The result is something between a mobile and a stabile. This is artwork that can hang from hooks, wall to wall, in the traditional way or descend from loft rafters to create a bold tapestry. The hammocks measure about 45 inches wide and 131 or so long.
Although not registered in the Calder Foundation Archive during his lifetime, the hammock tapestries are nevertheless legitimate Alexander Calder works of art. Each is plate signed, signed and dated in the fabric, numbered on the label on verso. The artist himself liked them so much that he had several from the edition of 100 in his home.
One of the things that makes this edition so appealing today is that the prices for the hammocks run well within the budget of young collectors. While prices for Calder hammocks tend to top out about $5,000, the Alexander Calder woven hammock tapestry that went off at Roland Antiques auction played to a rather intimate crowd and went for $1,680, including buyer’s premium.