Alexander Calder, known as the artist who “made sculpture move,” revolutionized sculpture by suspending objects, creating mesmerizing shadows and changing perspectives.
Walking into the Montreal Museum of Fine Art’s Exhibition, ‘Alexander Calder: Radical Inventor’, viewers are immediately confronted with a slowly rotating circular couch with a large Calder mobile sculpture hanging above it. I sat down, laid on my back and gazed above to view the artwork. The moving couch offered continuously changing perspectives of the piece above, aptly setting the tone for the retrospective celebrating an artist who famously “made sculpture move.”
The exhibition features many of Calder’s mobiles – the artist’s unique artform consisting of delicately suspended forms that gently shift in response to air currents. Calder’s invention of the mobile completely revolutionized sculpture by renouncing stable heavy objects with mass and weight in favour of light, airy constructions that flow and cast magnificent shadows on walls that, in a way, become sculptures in their own right.
The mobiles, stabiles, paintings and jewellery displayed throughout the exhibition showcase the artist’s innovative multidisciplinary practice. My favourite part of the exhibition, however, was the video of Calder’s circus performance displayed early on in the show. Performed in the avant-garde circles of Paris from 1926-31, Calder’s circus comprised of hundreds of miniature figurines made of wire and cloth that he manipulated into action. The video captures Calder vigorously pulling levers and strings and turning cranks to animate his characters and their props in a way that emulates various acts that occur at the circus. Trapeze artists fly through the air, latch arms and fall into a net. A lion roars before placing its handler’s head into its mouth. Act after act, it is truly a delight to watch and demonstrates the artist’s distinctive ability to imbue static objects with a strong performative presence. The circus performance captures the essence of the artist’s entire oeuvre that is, at once, playful and sophisticated.
The exhibition runs through until February 24th and I strongly encourage you to visit if you are in Montreal. Visit the museum’s website for more information.