Los Angeles – “Calder and Abstraction: From Avant-Garde to Iconic” at LACMA Through July 27th 2014

January 22nd, 2014

Calder and Abstraction: From Avant-Garde to Iconic, (Installation View)
Calder and Abstraction: From Avant-Garde to Iconic, (Installation View), all images courtesy LACMA

Currently on display at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art is a landmark exhibition of from American sculptor Alexander Calder, including his iconic series of mobiles, as well as his later stabiles. Titled Calder and Abstraction: From Avant Garde to Iconic, the exhibition will remain on view at LACMA for over half a year, from November 24, 2013 through July 27, 2014.

Calder and Abstraction: From Avant-Garde to Iconic, (Installation View)
Calder and Abstraction: From Avant-Garde to Iconic, (Installation View)

This exhibition focuses on Calder’s “radical translation of French Surrealist vocabulary into American vernacular,” a revolutionary act within the context of modern sculpture. Known as the originator of the mobile, Alexander Calder lived from 1898 to 1976, and his most significant series are his mobiles. Born into a lineage of sculptors, Calder completed his first piece from clay in 1902 at the age of 4. From the ages of 7 to 8, Calder suffered from tuberculosis and was separated from his family for that year. Shortly afterwards, the Calder family moved to Pasadena, California, where he had his first studio in the basement of the family’s home, constructing jewelery for his sister’s dolls from copper wire he found in the streets. He first created first kinetic sculpture at the age of 11, a duck crafted from sheet brass which rocked when gently tapped. In high school, he made a gravity powered system of mechanical trains from wood, iron, and candle lights.

Calder and Abstraction: From Avant-Garde to Iconic, (Installation View)
Calder and Abstraction: From Avant-Garde to Iconic(Installation View)

Calder frequently moved back and forth between California and New York during the early part of his life, before settling in Hoboken, New Jersey, where he studied mechanical engineering at the Stevens Institute of Technology. He continued working in the New York area as a hydraulic engineer and draughtsman, as well as a mechanic on a passenger ship. In 1925, he was assigned to sketch the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus while working for the National Police Gazette, after which he became interested in the circus, initiating the circus motif recurring throughout his body of work. Calder moved in 1926 to Paris where he had a studio at the famed 22 rue Daguerre, where he began making toys, and later his Cirque Calder, a miniature portable circus display made from found objects, wire, and string.

Calder and Abstraction: From Avant-Garde to Iconic, (Installation View)
Calder and Abstraction: From Avant-Garde to Iconic(Installation View)

In 1929, Calder held his first solo show of wire sculpture in Paris at Galerie Billiet. Following a visit to Piet Mondrian’s studio in 1930, Calder moved into a period of completely embracing abstract art, and ultimately led him to create his first “truly kinetic” sculptures, made from crank and pulley systems. The works were first named “mobiles” by Marcel Duchamp, as a French word play, which could translated both as “mobile” and “motive.” Starting in 1934, his sculptures were made so that they could move with the help of air currents. At this time, though, Calder was already working on his equally well-known stabiles, which were static, abstract sculptures made from carved wood due to the scarcity of metal during World War II. After the war, Calder began working again with metal and began hand-painting his works with solid black, red, blue, and white shades.

Calder and Abstraction: From Avant-Garde to Iconic, (Installation View)

Calder and Abstraction: From Avant-Garde to Iconic(Installation View)

After gaining critical acclaim for these works, Calder completed several large-scale public commissions for museums, airports, stadiums, and other major spaces. His works are included in the permanent collections of museums across the globe, and The Whitney Museum of American Art houses his largest body of work.

Calder and Abstraction: From Avant-Garde to Iconic(Installation View)

Alexander Calder is a significant artist in the history of LACMA, as he was commissioned to create the major outdoor sculpture Three Quintains (Hello Girls) for the museum’s opening in 1964. The exhibition was made possible by the Calder Foundation, and it is Calder’s first museum exhibition in Los Angeles. The exhibition will remain on view at LACMA through July 27, 2014.


Calder and Abstraction: From Avant-Garde to Iconic(Installation View)

—E. Baker

Related Links:
Exhibition Page [Los Angeles County Museum of Art]
“A Wonder of Curved Space” [LA Times]