In 1947 Jean Vilar founded the Avignon Festival, which would become one of the world’s biggest festivals. In 1951 he was appointed head of the Théâtre National Populaire, where he strove to appeal to a broad-based public, frequently commissioning artists like Léon Gischia, Mario Prassinos and Alfred Manessier to design sets and costumes. In 1952 he staged Henri Pichette’s anti-nuclear play Nucléa, starring Gérard Philipe and Jeanne Moreau. Vilar asked Calder – whose work was well suited to his modernist approach – to design the scenery. Calder’s theatre décor comprised a giant stabile and four mobiles. The play met scant success, but confirmed Vilar’s determination to stage drama prepared to deal with current events.Until this month, when it gets sold by Artcurial in Paris. It's on view this week at Swann in New York.
Vilar and Calder became close friends. One morning in 1952, Calder knocked on the door of Vilar’s modest Paris apartment. Vilar’s wife Andrée opened the door and found herself face-to-face with the giant – who smilingly told her, in his ogre’s voice with its American accent, ‘I’m bringin’ ya a little mobile.’ He handed her a flimsy, badly tied-up bundle wrapped in newspaper, then went down on all fours in the lounge to assemble his magnificent mobile dedicated to Vilar. It would follow the family wherever they lived.
Wait, did that really say "anti-nuclear play"?
31 May 2010, Lot 65: Pour Vilar, 1952, Alexander Calder, est. 500-700,000 euros [artcurial.com]