Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art creates colorful Alexander Calder exhibit

By Caryn Rousseau, AP
Friday, June 25, 2010

Chicago’s MCA hosts summer-long Calder exhibit

CHICAGO — Colorful mobiles made from boldly painted sheet metal and steel wires will dangle above visitors’ heads this summer as the Museum of Contemporary Art displays an exhibit of 60 works by Alexander Calder.

But this Calder show, which debuts Saturday, doesn’t only feature the artist’s abstract pieces in the museum’s large, white main-floor gallery. In an equally large gallery across the way, dozens of works by young artists who have a Calderesque style are on view.

The idea of juxtaposing Calder’s works alongside those from a younger generation came from museum curator Lynne Warren. Warren sought out specific artists who were looking to Calder. Her aim was to assess his influence on contemporary artists.

“We really have the best of both worlds here,” Warren said. “We can also learn more about Calder by looking at him through the eyes of contemporary sculptors.”

Calder was revolutionary in his development as a sculptor, making movable parts in his works and creating what became known as the mobile.

The exhibit — “Alexander Calder and Contemporary Art: Form, Balance, Joy” — remains in Chicago at the museum just east of the city’s famous Michigan Avenue through Oct. 17 before it travels to museums in California, North Carolina and Texas.

It contains five Calder pieces from the MCA’s collection, along with Calder works on loan from more than a dozen institutions around the country, including The Museum of Modern Art and the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, and The Museum of Fine Arts in Houston.

There are more than 30 works from the young artists, who range in age from 36 to 43. Their works echo Calder’s color, playfulness, engineering and mobility.

Calder, who died in 1976 at age 78, first took art classes in New York before traveling in the 1920s to France, where he debuted his signature mobile. In 1933, he moved to a Connecticut farm and he continued to work.

In the Chicago exhibition, his mobiles hang silently from the gallery ceiling, moving slightly back and forth with the room’s air currents.

Nathan Carter was 8 years old when he was first introduced to Calder on a trip to the Whitney with his parents. “It was a big moment,” the Brooklyn artist, now 39, said.

The Chicago exhibit includes four works from Carter, who said he finds a suspension of reality in Calder.

“What I really pull from it, it’s almost like a childlike space that is a relief from all the ills in the world,” Carter said.

Artist Kristi Lippire, 36, of Los Angeles, who also has four works in the show, said she was drawn to the movement and shadows created by Calder’s work when she first saw it in Paris while in college. She bought the Paris exhibit’s catalog, even though it was all in French.

“From that moment on, I think I reconsidered how a two-dimensional can function in a three-dimensional space,” Lippire said. “It’s the fact that they can spin and occupy a volume of space.”

Lippire describes Calder’s pieces as “poetic and physically stable” at the same time.

“It’s all steel and metal,” she said. “Yet it’s light as a feather”

It may be that simplicity that makes Calder so accessible to many different audiences. Viewers don’t need to know a lot about art or the artist himself to appreciate Calder’s work, Warren said.

“These works can just be looked at and enjoyed,” she said. “They will tell you everything you need. The enjoyment is all right there.”

The Calder show next travels to the Nasher Sculpture Center in Dallas from Dec. 11 to March 6, 2011; the Orange County Museum of Art in Newport Beach, Calif., during summer 2011; and the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University in Durham, N.C., in 2012.


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