Alexander Calder: Performing Sculpture

“Above all, art should be fun.” – A.C.

Dog - Calder

Alexander Calder: Performing Sculpture

Cheerful, mesmeric – and a little bit like a much needed hug.

I visited Tate Modern’s Calder exhibition for the second time last week – after the first viewing, it was blatantly apparent that I would have to come back. The exhibition has something of a hold on me – similar to the magnetic pull of Rothko’s awe-inspiring Seagram Murals (that room is one of my favourite places in London. Coincidentally, did you know that Mark Rothko was found dead the very same day those paintings reached the Tate Modern?)

But back on track. Calder is an artist I knew little about – mobiles, he is the guy who invented the mobile.This exhibition leads you through his developing practice; as an artist it’s so reassuring to find clear experimentation and progression. In my book, a good art exhibition is one you can fall into, appreciate without shuffling around, your nose in a leaflet or squinting at little labels. Calder was consuming from the start, with his little wire drawings of circus folk and animals; so deceptively simplistic, three-dimensional sculpted in the air – charming and witty.

It seems that Calder’s initial “performing sculptures” were not overly successful – little kinetic constructions of hinged wire and juddering motors – but they clearly paved the way for what was to come. The room of 3D paintings falling out from their frames felt naive and seemed to pay a little too much homage to the work of Henri Matisse… I quite like to imagine that perhaps Calder had a crisis of artistic identity, he felt that “artists make paintings”, and tried to twist his interests and ideas into something that suited the establishment (something that has plagued my practise in the past!)

Onwards – to the best room in the show. Beautifully curated, the mobiles that made his name are suspended, shimmering in the air. Calm and alive, subtly shifting, twisting unexpectedly – so simple to get lost, staring, watching, waiting. The mobiles sculpt the air in and around them; so fragile and dainty, yet vast, using the space. Some are hung above our heads (it is not often you can walk beneath works of art) and with each slight movement, the gallery visitors influence the art. Signs warn: “No Blowing.” There is a handmade, care-taken quality to all of Calder’s work, carried through from his early wire doodles – you imaging how he may have constructed and laboured over his mobiles, ensuring each wire is carefully balanced.

There is a feeling, an atmosphere, an aura – there is something intangible and special in this room. There is nothing to understand, no contrived concepts to struggle through.  All the art asks of you is to experience it; slow down, be quiet, still – sit and watch. It is meditative. Like the Seagram Murals, there is a power, a gravitas that is entirely lost in translation to print. I left the exhibition feeling light-hearted and exhilarated, peaceful – and wanting to create.

Vertical Foliage - Calder


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