Since November 2015, the Tate Modern has been showcasing the UK’s largest ever exhibition of Alexander Calder (1898-1976). The exhibit has had plenty of time to make its mark on London; posters of his hanging mobiles are everywhere to be seen - and now, we’ve got the real deal hanging in one of our properties at Old Brompton Road. Clearly this city is hot for Calder, as is Domus Nova.
Calder was one of the truly ground-breaking artists of the 20th century and, as a pioneer of kinetic sculpture, played an essential role in shaping the history of modernism. Alexander Calder: Performing Sculpture brings together roughly 100 works to reveal how Calder turned sculpture from a static object into a continually changing work to be experienced in real time. Calder started developing his wire sculptures in Paris in the 1920s, and by 1931 had invented the ‘mobile’, a term first coined by Marcel Duchamp to describe Calder’s motorised objects. The exhibition traces the evolution of his distinct vocabulary - from his initial years captivating the artistic bohemia of inter-war Paris, to his later life spent between the towns of Roxbury in Connecticut and Saché in France.
The exhibition also features the figurative wire portraits Calder created of other artists including Joan Miró 1930 and Fernand Léger c.1930, alongside depictions of characters related to the circus, the cabaret and other mass spectacles of popular entertainment, including Two Acrobats 1929, The Brass Family 1929 and Aztec Josephine Baker c.1929. Following a visit to the studio of Piet Mondrian in 1930, where he was impressed with the environment-as-installation, Calder created abstract, three-dimensional, kinetic forms and suspended vividly coloured shapes in front of panels or within frames hung on the wall. Red Panel 1936, White Panel 1936 and Snake and the Cross 1936 exemplify the artist’s continuous experimentation with forms in space and the potential for movement to inspire new sculptural possibilities. They are shown together with a selection of other panels and open frames for the first time, illustrating this important moment in Calder’s development.
In a stimulating display, the exhibition includes a selection of his most significant motorised mobiles. By 1932, Calder’s suspended sculptures would begin to move without motors, animated by just the lightest of air currents. In Snow Flurry I 1948, Calder demonstrates his masterful expertise in constructing large-scale mobiles whose equilibrium and reduced palette awards them their sublime quality.
Calder reinvented the possibilities of sculpture in parallel with avant-garde developments in theatre and dance. He incorporated elements of choreography and sound to fundamentally change the principles of traditional sculpture, creating mobiles which chime and resonate such as Red Gongs 1950, Streetcar 1951 and Triple Gong 1951. The exhibition closes with Calder’s large scale mobile Black Widow c.1948, shown for the first time ever outside Brazil, demonstrating how his art in motion turned global after WWII and came to serve as a visual metaphor for a new and free social order.
It’s a powerful show, and an illuminating narrative on the evolution of Calder’s work. On this rare occasion, we are fully advocating a ride on the bandwagon - all the way to the South Bank, where the exhibit will be running until 3 April 2016.
Alexander Calder: Performing Sculpture; tate.org.uk
Photography © 2015 Calder Foundation, New York / DACS, London