Painted sheet metal and steel wire
20" x 26" x 26"
Photo: Nathan Keay, MCA Chicago
Courtesy: Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago
the Leonard and Ruth Horwich Family Loan (EL1995.10)
2010 Calder Foundation, New York / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
We all know about the mobile--the iconic sculptural art form created by Alexander Calder in 1932. Yet according to Lynne Warren, curator of "Alexander Calder and Contemporary Art: Form Balance, Joy," Calder (and other modern artists) "are given short shrift, as if their fame and popularity degrade their worth as innovative." Warren originated the show at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago last year and brought it to the Orange County Museum of Art. As curator at a contemporary venue that was gifted with several Calder works, she felt compelled to explore his influence on contemporary art. Her inquiry, conducted at museums and art schools around the country, led her to look at several artists who were inspired at least obliquely by Calder's work. As she notes in the catalogue, "This younger generation of artists, educated in the nineties, are full of optimism and joy, particularly of the joy of discovery."
The MCA/OCMA exhibition of 30 pieces by the modern sculptor, complemented by sculptures by seven contemporary artists, examines Calder's embrace of form and structure; materials including wire and metal; biomorphic shapes; primary colors; and creative balancing strategies. The show also features seven contemporary artists' works; pondering how Calder influenced them, and the significance of Calder's works today. Displayed together, Calder's 30 mobiles and stabiles reveal a brilliant composite of aesthetic and technical skills that remain compelling, and are still fascinating to adults and children alike. Calder explained his process thus: "I begin with the smallest and work up. Once I know the balance point for the first pair of discs, I anchor it by a hook to another arm, where it acts as one end of another pair of scales, and so on up."
At OCMA, the visitor is drawn to Big Red (1959), a 17-by-114 inch classic Calder of 14 red metal plates, suspended from wire, moving slowly and elegantly. Other mobiles include the delicate white Snow Flurries (1951) and Blue Among Yellow and Red (1963), a robust mobile with 15 primary-colored arms. Calder's stabiles are equally engaging. Plumeau Sioux (Indian Feathers) (1969) has a circular red metal base, supporting a slender red arm with five, perfectly balanced feather-like plates in white, yellow, blue, black and red. Chat-Mobile (1966) is comprised of a black cat body which spawns a red metal cat face and white tail.
Combining Calder's works with contemporary pieces creates comparisons across generations, with mixed results. Included in the mix are three LA sculptors. Aaron Curry's sculptures, most resonant of Calder, include Black Cat (2009) with steel construction, biomorphic shape and a similar body and head as Chat-Mobile. The piece precarious balancing with a top-heavy head and delicate body implies examination of Calder's mechanics. Curry's pop culture-inspired Deft Composition (2009), by contrast, is an abstract sculpture painted with cartoonish brushstrokes in red and yellow. Kristi Lippire's copper, steel and brass Hanging Garden (2006), hanging from the ceiling like an immobile chandelier sprouting a multitude of shiny plants and flowers, is a heavy, flamboyant work--a counterpoint to Calder's delicately balanced pieces. Her 3rd & Broadway (2010), of steel, vinyl and enamel painted blocks with a painted traffic cop and street signs is a joyous depiction of a city intersection, more reminiscent of Mondrian's Broadway Boogie Woogie than of Calder. Several of Jason Meadows' works combine conceptual with assemblage aspects. Ghost (2007), a flat latticework of steel, wood, six-pack rings and colored rope, is unlike the ghosts we know in stories. Yet its ghostly qualities emanate through its translucence and its enchanting, otherworldly aspects. Pig Latin (2008) is a large pink and red wrought iron, steel and rebar sculpture, playfully fusing together outlined pig heads and bodies.
Martin Boyce's Concrete Autumn (Dead Leaves. No Ground) (2006) mobile is the work most directly related to Calder's, yet his piece is darker, with angular elements. Nathan Carter's assemblage pieces, incorporating steel, wire and bright paint, are networks of abstract shapes and forms, numbers and letters, at times evoking the works of Jean Arp. Jason Middlebrook, working with wood, building sculptures that follow the natural grain in their shapes and brushstrokes, creates magnificent pieces, yet with little kinship to Calder's. The most effusive contemporary work in the exhibition is Abraham Cruzvillegas' Bougie du Isthmus (2005). Cleverly crafted of dozens of colorful printed scarves, hung from wooden fishing poles, affixed to a wine rack, it is too large for the galleries and is displayed in the cafe; incorporating elements from various countries and cultures, it draws the viewer into the show.
By bringing Calder into a contemporary arena, this exhibition re-examines and affirms his intrinsic artistic value and ubiquitous influence. Comparing these contemporary sculptors with Calder, while sometimes revelatory, is at times a stretch, and in a few cases, almost a contradiction. Yet, as the show (and catalogue) clearly demonstrate, the modern master at least inspired these younger artists to fully explore the hands-on method of creating artworks.