Thursday, February 7, 2013

“Let Me Entertain You, Let Me Make You Smile...I’m Very Versatile” The Bronzes of Alexander Calder

Installation view of Calder: The Complete Bronzes, First Floor, Front Gallery 
From left to right: 
Fake Snake (Snake on Table), 1944, bronze, 44 x 13 1/2 x 15 in. (111.8 x 34.3 x 38.1 cm) 
Acrobats (II), 1944, bronze, 20 x 13 1/2 x 9 1/2 in. (50.8 x 34.3 x 24.1 cm) 
Tightrope Worker (Woman on Cord), 1944, bronze, rod, and string. 22 x 30 x 15 1/2 in. (55.9 x 76.2 x 39.4 cm) 
Dancer, 1944, bronze, 27 x 23 3/4 x 17 3/4 in. (68.6 x 60.3 x 45.1 cm)
© 2012 Calder Foundation, New York / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

An exhibition of bronzes and plaster models by Alexander Calder (1898-1976) presents a different side of this well-known artist. Calder worked in bronze only twice, in 1930 and between 1943 and 1944. The exhibit, Calder: The Complete Bronzes, makes a case for the importance of these works. Although not all the bronzes are included, there are over thirty on view along with thirteen of their plaster models. Private collection restrictions prevented a few from traveling.

These works are not the artist’s familiar cut sheet metal and wire mobiles or stabiles. They can’t be set in motion with a slight breath; and, they are not monumental.

About a third are articulated with a variety of joints, hooks, posts and holes. Some appear to balance precariously. Since parts can move, a “what if” game ensues. Shift one section this way or that and another may or may not follow. Take the Dancer with billowing breasts. Hinged in four pieces, her struggling arabesque may be adjusted. Tip the extended leg upward and twist the torso to extend an arm en avant. The Tightrope Worker may gently sway on the rope as limbs are altered. Two acrobats, Acrobats (II), one astride the standing partner’s head, astound. How does he do it? A Snake curls down, around, up and out yet remains firmly shelf based. Movement is conjecture. Spectators may not touch.

Installation view of Calder: The Complete Bronzes, First Floor, Front Gallery 
© 2012 Calder Foundation, New York / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Three shelves display eighteen toy-like bronze and plaster figurines. A voluptuous woman has her feet in the air in an uninhibited posture; another female lies languidly stretched out on the ground. A strong man raises a barbell, knees bent under the weight. An acrobat, using only one arm, strains to hold another. A hissing cat arches his back. A cow, elephant, donkey and two horses add to the animated menagerie.

Pieces have a tactility and, at times, sensuality not ordinarily associated with the artist. Designing with fast drying plaster, Calder did not disguise his touch. Impressions of modeling were left. The influence of Matisse and Picasso is clearly discerned. Some sculptures appear to be direct descendants of the artist’s miniature circus, Cirque Calder, a portable, performance affair made in Paris in the late 1920s.

Excerpts of Calder performing the "Circus" from a film by Jean Painlevé, Le Grand Calder, 1927, 1955 by WhitneyFocus
Video:  YouTube

In the first floor back gallery, bronzes are paired with their plaster prototypes. Close observations reveal slight dissimilarities.

Installation view of Calder: The Complete Bronzes, First Floor Back Gallery 
From left to right: 
The Flower, 1944, bronze 24 x 20 1/2 x 18 1/2 in. (61 x 52.1 x 47 cm) 
The Flower, 1944, plaster, 24 x 20 1/2 x 18 1/2 in. (61 x 52.1 x 47 cm) 
The Vine, 1944, bronze, 26 x 40 x 16 1/4 in. (66 x 101.6 x 41.3 cm) 
The Vine, 1944, plaster, 26 x 40 x 16 1/4 in. (66 x 101.6 x 41.3 cm) 
© 2012 Calder Foundation, New York / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Compare the plaster and bronze Vine. Note the variation in the double-leaf top component where it connects to work’s stem: the top leaves turn upward in the plaster version and downward in bronze. Changes made, perhaps, to accommodate the nature of differing materials.

Installation view of Calder: The Complete Bronzes, Second Floor Rotunda
On One Knee, 1944, aluminum, 43 1/2 x 40 x 26 in. (110.5 x 101.6 x 66 cm) 
© 2012 Calder Foundation, New York / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York 

On One Knee is the show’s only aluminum sculpture. Placed in the rotunda on the second floor, it splays across a pedestal casting wondrous shadows on the gallery’s wall. Reminiscent of Giacometti and Picasso, this complex figure intrigues. Speculations as to intent come forward. Made of several parts, the now seemingly immobile joints may or may not have been the artist’s desire. Wear and tear takes its toll.
Installation view of Calder: The Complete Bronzes, Second Floor Front Gallery 
From left to right: 
The Helices (Double Helix), 1944, bronze, 31 1/2 x 31 1/4 x 24 in. (80 x 79.4 x 61 cm) 
Starfish, 1944, bronze, 34 1/4 x 35 1/2 x 22 in. (87 x 90.2 x55.9 cm) 
Upstanding T (The "T"), 1944, bronze, 36 3/8 in. (36.375 x 92.4 cm)
© 2012 Calder Foundation, New York / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York 

The rear second floor gallery requires viewers’s restraint for the overwhelming desire is to touch, spin or prod. The Helices (Double Helix), Starfish, and Upstanding T (The "T") are especially enticing. They call out for motion. Here is Calder at his best morphing an inert material into lightness and flight.

It would seem Calder was destined to become an artist. His father and grandfather were successful sculptors. (See ArtWithHillary, January 2013) His mother was a painter. His sister held art classes in her home and helped establish a university museum. Calder was talented and very smart. He attended and graduated from San Francisco’s equivalent of New York’s Stuyvesant High School and earned a mechanical engineering degree from the demanding Stevens Institute of Technology in New Jersey. Celebrated for his sculptures and the invention of mobiles, his prodigious artistic output also included paintings, drawings, prints, gouaches, jewelry, costumes, stage designs, chess sets, book illustrations, an autobiography, the decoration on two planes and an automobile.

The bronzes may, however, suggest more than other works Calder’s paternal ancestry. His father and grandfather worked in bronze. Their artistry was traditional, realistic, solidly grounded. Calder took their medium of choice and reworked it in a completely different manner. He formed the material into something expressive, gravity defying. He abstracted the real world and left his imprint visible. See the Calder bronze show.

Calder: The Complete Bronzes
October 25, 2012 - February 9, 2013

Mnuchin Gallery* 
45 East 78 Street, Manhattan, New York 
Hours: Tuesday - Saturday, 10 a.m. - 5:30 p.m. 

 *Calder: The Complete Bronzes opened in October, 2012 at the L&M Arts which became the Mnuchin Gallery as of January 2013.  L&M Arts has made a significant contribution to New York’s art scene with outstanding, often museum quality shows.   From L&M Arts Web site: “After seven years of working very successfully together as the founding partners of L&M Arts, we have decided to branch out on separate endeavors beginning January 2013. While we no longer will partner in New York City, we are extremely pleased to announce our continued affiliation as L&M Arts, Los Angeles. Mnuchin Gallery will continue its program at 45 East 78th Street and Dominique Lévy Gallery will open at its new premises at 909 Madison Avenue in 2013. Thank you for your continued support. We look forward to seeing you soon. Dominique Lévy & Robert Mnuchin”

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