Alexander Calder's mobiles

Monday, February 10, 2014

I visited LACMA last week to see the Alexander Calder exhibit, Calder and Abstractionism: From Avant-Garde to Iconic, and let me just say, I was bowled over by the experience. Seriously. It was something special. Starry-eyed I wandered through the curving white space of the gallery, gazing up at the slowly oscillating, suspended figures. I circled the gallery three or so times, feeling almost love-struck as I studied the curvatures and angles of each piece, pausing for minutes at a time to watch their ever-so-delicate movement. I could not believe the simple, yet profound whimsy and joy contained within these bowing forms - the spacial and, really, emotional impact of them. The smallest flash of red or cobalt amidst an otherwise inky palette of shapes was a revelation; the glint of sunlight reflected in the unassuming recycled bits of colored glass hanging from a long, iron arm in 1941's 'Tree,' utterly spell-binding.

Around 1931 or 1932, Dadaist artist Marchel Duchamp suggested the name "Mobile" for Calder's unprecedented kinetic sculptures drifting sweetly on the air. The idea that the mobile - you know, that little cluster of airplanes or birds or any such thing that crowns just about every newborn's crib - simply did not exist until Calder became curious, and explored how one might translate line drawing into sculpture, what might happen if motion, and change, and point of view, were inextricable from the work of art itself, just blows my mind. Mind: blown.

I love this quote from Jean-Paul Satre, regarding Calder's mobiles: "Although Calder has no desire to imitate anything—his one aim is to create chords and cadences of unknown movements—his mobiles are at once lyrical inventions, technical, almost mathematical combinations and the perceptible symbol of Nature: great elusive Nature, squandering pollen and abruptly causing a thousand butterflies to take wing." Divine.

Calder posing in 1975 with the first ever "art car," a BMW 3.0 CSL. Calder was the first artist to participate in the BMW Art Car Project commissioned by French racer and auctioneer Hervé Poulain.

I was able to snap one photo myself of 'Snow Flurry,' created in 1948. This was definitely against the rules. But oh, how could I resist. The light was hitting it just right.

Below, Calder performing his handmade, miniature circus in 1955. I mean...

And, a playful homage by Carl Kleiner, posted over at The Nowness.

If you are in Los Angeles, or nearby, I'd highly recommend you see this one. It's open through July, no excuses!


  1. I did not know that Calder invented the mobile but that explains everything about the seeming ubiquity of his designs in this medium. Brain is now shouting at me, "Of course!"


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