Alexander Calder: Performing Sculpture at Tate Modern.
His dynamic works brought to life the avant-garde’s captivation with movement, and brought sculpture into the fourth dimension.
Tate Modern is showcasing the UK’s largest ever exhibition of Alexander Calder, a pioneer of kinetic sculpture and one of the most ground-breaking, influential artists of the 20th Century.
Originally trained as an engineer, he travelled to Paris in the 1920’s and by 1931 had invented the mobile, a term coined by Marcel Duchamp to describe Calder’s kinetic constructs. For Calder, sculpture didn’t have to be a static object that forced the viewer to walk around it in order to scrutinize it from every angle, but rather something that could itself rotate in front of a still observer and be experienced in present time. The exhibition follows the evolution of his motorised art – from his early years portraying the artistic bohemia of inter-war Paris, to his later life in Connecticut and later Saché.
The exhibition brings together around 100 works, including collaborative projects in the fields of film, theatre, music and dance, which show how Calder turned static sculpture into moving art, overturning many traditional assumptions. Also on display are his figurative wire portraits of other artists including Joan Miró and Fernand Léger. At a time where sculptures, apart from being static, were made of bronze, wood or stone, Calder´s predominant use of wire to create his hypnotic, hanging dramas was radically new.
Calder’s life-long fascination with the circus, not for “the daringness of the performers nor the tricks and gimmicks but the fantastic balance in motion that the performers exhibited”, led towards the establishment of his reputation through the performance he staged with Cirque Calder, a complex body of work featuring figures made from fabric, cork and buttons. The wire models come to life to perform the various occupations of the circus performers they represent, from contortionists to sword eaters to lion tamers.
The exhibition also features a selection of his most significant motorised mobiles, which reveal the ways in which Calder used his engineer training alongside his fascination with the dynamism of the cosmos: Black Frame and A Universe, the latter which apparently fascinated Einstein, who stood watching it for forty minutes during it’s first exhibition at the MOMA NY. Soon after, Calder would move into sculptures that would rely on the slightest currents of air for their animation.
His explorations of sound and movement, of chance and intervention, and the ways in which an artwork can complicitly respond to its surroundings served as a visual metaphor for a new and free social order.