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Alexander Calder 
in Paris

   
 

High-Wire act!

   

 

  

 

The mobile is immediately and indelibly associated with the American sculptor Alexander Calder (1898 - 1976).  This show at the Whitney is playful and fun and traces Calder's evolution as an artist through his years in Paris, from 1926 to 1933, and his eventual shift towards the mobile.  Calder's father and grandfather were both famous sculptors and Calder tried very hard to not be an artist.  He first trained as a mechanical engineer but eventually gave in and enrolled at the Art Students League in New York in 1925.  His relocation to Paris the following year was catalytic to his development; it was the Roaring Twenties and Paris was the place to be and he stayed there for seven formative years. 

What is fascinating is that he moved to Europe to become a painter and instead began working in three dimensions, using wire to draw in space.  In the early Paris years Calder began making wire sculptures, using industrial strength steel wire as if it were ink with which he limned caricatures.  There are several portraits of Josephine Baker in the show and it is quite marvelous to see how with a subtle twist of wire he is able to convey the particularities of a person as if he were sketching with pen-and-ink.  He was then known to always carry a pair of pliers and a roll of wire, and like a magician manipulated metal by twisting, braiding, and forming shapes out of thin air.  The French called him affectionately 'the king of wire'.  Also on show is the famous Calder's Circus (and a part of the Whitney's permanent collection) - tiny wire figures that can be manipulated.  One sees here the influence of his training in mechanical engineering and the moving toys he had made since childhood

A Mondrian studio visit in 1930 was instrumental in his move towards the abstract, his eventual move to his iconic mobiles retaining the use of wire and adding circles and shapes that carve space.  Cone d'Ebene (1933) is an early such abstract work.  There are hints of the paintings of Miro (who he also met in Paris) in his mobiles and Marcel Duchamp is said to have suggested the name mobile.  Paris marked him, indelibly.    

Calder returned to America in 1933.  Despite the French influence, as Fernand Léger said, Calder was "a hundred percent American." 

 

 

Visit: Alexander Calder: The Paris Years, 1926—1933 on view through February 15, 2009

 

Tags:  art  design  sculpture  paris   france

 

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