A retrospective of Calder's innovative oeuvre and his iconic mobiles.
By Federico Tybitt
The spectacular paintings, sculptures and three-dimensional mobiles created by the legendary American artist Alexander Calder are featured in a retrospective of his oeuvre at London’s Tate Modern Museum from November 2015 to April 2016.
Calder is one of the most influential American artists of the first part of the 20th century, mainly for his contributions to kinetic design, his wire sculptures and his famous "mobiles", a term used by the French painter Marcel Duchamp in 1931 to describe Calder’s work.
Born to a couple of relatively successful artists, Calder graduated as a mechanical engineer in 1919, and in 1923, he joined the Art Students League of New York, where he received significant pictorial influences and began to use his knowledge of mathematics, mechanics and engineering in his creations.
At this early stage in his career, he also experimented with common industrial materials to make wire sculptures.
His approach to sculpture using simple lines was innovative for the time. It introduced the language of minimalist drawing to three-dimensional objects, a practice that was defined as "drawing in space”. Out of this period came famous pieces such as Hercules and Lion or Goldfish Bowl.
In 1926, Calder traveled to Paris and contacted artists like Jean Cocteau, Joan Miro, and Piet Mondrian. From his European colleagues, he received a definite influence on the concept of abstraction, which captivated him for its pure and basic expression.
In his collaboration with the journal Abstraction-Creation, Art Non Figuratif of 1932, Calder described his work as follows: "Each element can move, rotate, and oscillate back and forth in their relationship with the other elements of its universe. It is an abstraction that has no similarity with anything else in life, except for the way it reacts."
Throughout his career, his work had an overwhelming impact. He created not only movement and space but also sound and visual imagery. For example, in his Cirque Calder experiment, the artist composed small mobile sculptures with materials such as wire, fabric, cork, and wood. All the elements came together to deliver mini installations with unique motion patterns in this miniature circus.
Two Spheres is another emblematic piece, an installation comprised of two spheres of different dimensions and joined by a wire, surrounded by objects that make a sound when struck randomly by the motion of the spheres.
These revolutionary concepts led him to create abstract sculptures of colossal sizes for all kinds of international events, such as the International Exhibition of Paris in 1937, where he exhibited his work Mercury Fountain in the Spanish pavilion. In this occasion, Calder showed his work alongside Picasso’s masterpiece Guernica.
The retrospective at Tate Modern is presented in 11 rooms that display the main works of the artist, brilliantly describing his professional career. ■