Calder: Hypermobility focuses on the extraordinary breadth of movement and sound in the work of Alexander Calder. This exhibition brings together a rich constellation of key sculptures and provides a rare opportunity to experience the works as the artist intended—in motion. Regular activations will occur in the galleries, revealing the inherent kinetic nature of Calder’s work, as well as its relationship to performance and the theatrical stage. Influenced in part by the artist’s fascination and engagement with choreography, Calder’s sculptures contain an embedded performativity that is reflected in their idiosyncratic motions and the perceptual responses they provoke.
The exhibition is organized by Jay Sanders, the Whitney’s former Engell Speyer Family Curator and Curator of Performance, with Greta Hartenstein, senior curatorial assistant, and Melinda Lang, curatorial assistant
Alexander Calder was born on July or August 22, 1898, in Lawnton, Pennsylvania, into a family of artists. In 1919, he received an engineering degree from Stevens Institute of Technology, Hoboken, New Jersey. Calder attended the Art Students League, New York, from 1923 to 1925, studying briefly with Boardman Robinson and John Sloan. As a freelance artist for the National Police Gazette in 1925, he spent two weeks sketching at the circus; his fascination with the subject dates from this time. He also made his first wire sculpture in 1925, and the following year he made several constructions of animals and figures with wire and wood. Calder’s first exhibition of paintings took place in 1926 at the Artist’s Gallery, New York. Later that year, he went to Paris and attended the Académie de la grande chaumière. In Paris, he met Stanley William Hayter, created his famous Cirque Calder, which he began performing in the fall of 1926, and exhibited at the 1927 Salon des Indépendants. The first show of his wire animals and caricature portraits was held at the Weyhe Gallery, New York, in 1928. That same year, he met Joan Miró, who became a lifelong friend. Subsequently, Calder divided his time between France and the United States. In 1929, the Galerie Billiet gave him his first solo show in Paris. He met Frederick Kiesler,Fernand Léger, and Theo van Doesburg and visited Piet Mondrian’s studio in 1930. Around this time, he also encountered James Johnson Sweeney, future director of the Guggenheim Museum, who would become a close friend and supporter. Calder began to experiment with abstract sculpture and in 1931–32 introduced moving parts into his work. These moving sculptures were called “mobiles”; the stationary constructions were to be named “stabiles.” He exhibited with the group Abstraction-Création (Abstraction Creation, 1931–36) in Paris in 1933. In 1943, the Museum of Modern Art, New York, gave him a retrospective.
During the 1950s, Calder traveled widely and executed “gongs” (sound mobiles developed in the 1940s) and “towers” (wall mobiles developed around 1951). He won the Grand Prize for sculpture at the 1952 Venice Biennale. He exhibited, along with other pioneers ofKinetic art including Yaacov Agam and Jean Tinguely, in Le mouvement (Movement) at the Galerie Denise René, Paris, in 1955. Late in the decade, the artist worked extensively with gouache; from this period, he executed numerous major public commissions. In 1964–65, the Guggenheim Museum presented a Calder retrospective. He began the “totems” in 1965 and the “animobiles” in 1969; both are variations on the standing mobile. A Calder exhibition was held at the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (1976), and the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao (2003). Calder died on November 11, 1976, in New York.