"Calder: Modern From The Start"
“Calder: Modern From the Start” at the Museum of Modern Art is a large, diverse exhibition of the work of Alexander “Sandy” Calder. The title of the exhibit has two meanings. First, Calder was a modern artist from the beginning of his career. Second, the Museum of Modern Art, sometimes known as “The Modern,” was a key player from the start of Calder's career.
Calder was born in 1898 into an artistic family. His parents met while studying at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art. He was the son a sculptor. She was the grandniece of the writer Henry James.
The family moved frequently while Alexander was growing up for professional and health reasons. While his parents always provided Alexander with a studio in the various houses that the family lived in, they did not want him to become an artist. As professional artists, they were aware of the uncertainties and difficulties of such a career.
Therefore, Alexander enrolled at the Stevens Institute of Technology where he studied mechanical engineering. After graduation, he took a number of engineering-related jobs and eventually in 1922, went to sea as a mechanic. After that, he took a job as a timekeeper in a logging camp in Washington. Inspired by the scenery, he wrote home for paints and brushes.
Now decided on a career as an artist, Calder traveled to New York City where he enrolled in the Art Students League of New York.
In 1926, Calder moved to Paris where he studied at the Academis de la Grande Chaumiere. Paris was the center for avantgarde art during this period and Calder came to know just about all the leading figures. After a visit to Piet Mondrian's studio, Calder committed himself to abstract art.
Calder had his first solo exhibition in Paris and seemingly he went from success to success ever after. In New York, an early champion of Calder's work was the newly-created Museum of Modern Art. His work was first exhibited at MOMA in 1930, not long after the museum first opened its doors. Calder became MOMA's “unofficial house artist” and he was one of only three American artists selected by MOMA's first director Alfred H. Barr Jr. for the landmark exhibition “Cubism and Abstract Art” in 1936. In 1939, he was commissioned to create a sculpture for MOMA's new building. “Lobster Trap and Fish Tail" is still on display at MOMA. In the 1940s, MOMA held a mid-career retrospective of Calder's works. During the 1950s and, 60s, MOMA's collection of Calder's work continued to grow including a gift of 19 works from the artist.
The instant exhibition looks at Calder's career from MOMA's perspective. Inasmuch as MOMA was a major force in that career, the exhibition includes 70 artworks paired with film, historical photographs, and other archival materials from MOMA's collections as well as items on loan from the Calder Foundation.
Although Calder is frequently referred to as as a sculptor, that term is not broad enough to include all of Calder's artistic pursuits. He was a painter, printmaker, theatrical set designer, and jewelry-maker. He even designed exteriors of airliners. In addition, he did not limit himself to one type of sculpture.
Calder first found success with his wire sculptures of the 1920s. Bending wire, Calder created faces and figures. While the sculptures themselves are interesting, their shadows cast against the gallery walls add another dimension.
Moving on to kinetic sculptures, Calder at first created movement by using motors and cranks. However, he found the result too predictable and sought ways in which natural forces provided the movement. The result was his mobiles - delicate, light forms that move courtesy of the wind or a touch. Once again, the shadows created by these sculptures are part of the art.
Calder also became interested in stationary sculpture but not like traditional sculpture. He created forms derived from industrial objects but again with elements grace and delicacy. Over time, these morphed into monumental sculptures occupying large outdoor spaces. Always powerful but not disruptive.
The exhibition gives a taste of Calder's various artistic pursuits and in so doing provides both insights and delights.
Above: Calder's large sculptures were first done as small works and then expanded.
Below: "Snow Flurry". Calder was able to use his engineering background to make the metal disks seem to float in air.
Above: Calder's early wire sculptures recall the avantgarde drawing of artists like Matisse and Picasso.
Below: Calder frequently used cast shadows to bring another dimension to his sculptures.
Art review - Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) - "Calder: Modern From The Start"